Is online learning making the grade for Vermont students?

Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 3:28 PM EDT
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We've talked a lot about remote education for Vermont's students. So what do students think of the work they are being given? And is the so-called continuity of learning plan comparable to what kids would have received in school? Our Olivia Lyons spoke with students in Rutland and Vermont education secretary to find out.

"It's not exceedingly hard, necessarily; it's just a huge adjustment," said Megan O'Connor, a senior.

"Some of it's hard and some of it's easy," said Addison Swett, a first-grader.

"It's definitely less work, but it's also a difficult change because you have to be learning your material on your own more than ever," said Michael O'Connor, a sophomore.

"It's kind of a challenge for older kids," said Taylor Swett, a sixth-grader.

That's just some of the reactions to remote learning, a process that's new to students and educators.

The state has given districts guidelines for the minimum requirements for student achievement but schools are left to work out the details.

First-grader Addison Swett has some work online but also mails work packets into the school. Sixth-grader Taylor Swett primarily does work through apps on a computer or other electronics. Assignments are posted online and they video chat with teachers and each other.

"Some of the days we have kind of off because we have no work, but I would say like in total for the whole day at least around three hours," Taylor said.

In a typical school year, students are in school for six to seven hours and they don't have days off for a lack of work. So, does this mean students are not getting the education they need?

"It's too early to tell," Vt. Education Secretary Dan French said. "One of the essential starts of this process is first to define essentially what is the new regular education environment and then certainly an element, as I mentioned, in the plans is to figure out how to assess student learning. So, we're going to need a new benchmark approach to understand what learning is lost or not."

"I think I'll learn the material the teachers want me to learn," Megan O'Connor said, "but I am missing out on some of the stuff I like most about school."

For Megan, that's classroom discussion. The O'Connors say their work is all online. They attend video chats in their smaller classes but comment on posts made by teachers in their larger classes of about 25 students.

Rutland City public schools have given their students computers and wireless internet to get their work done. But this is not the case throughout the state. This means districts must ensure all students achieve proficiency regardless of how much time students study per day or how learning materials are distributed.

"Some students have access and some students don't. This is an example, once again, of why learning should be measured by the outcome and not by the minutes," French said.

"We're introduced to new things, but like AP chemistry, I've already taken a chemistry class before that, so a lot of it is being able to review things for yourself, but for them, it's harder because they have to learn a lot of newer things by themselves," Megan said.

Schools are required to take attendance. The state has not yet tracked student participation in remote learning but knows it is likely an issue, especially for students from low-income families or other at-risk groups.

Reporter Olivia Lyons: You say it's an issue. So, does that mean districts are saying a lot of their kids just aren't showing up and participating?

Dan French: Well, we haven't asked that question per se, but for example, our current truancy approach requires a partnership of the state's attorneys in each region of the state. We have regional truancy protocols. So we have started to anticipate that those protocols and regulations are not well suited to this environment.

The O'Connors said most students are participating in their classes unless someone accidentally sleeps through a morning class, which when students were physically going to school, would not be acceptable.

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