The Transylvania Times -

School Board Hears About COVID-19's Impact - Transylvania County, NC

 

Last updated 4/14/2020 at 10:31am



Members of the Transylvania County Board of Education were informed last Monday evening via teleconference about the multiple ways COVID-19 has affected instruction, standardized testing, grading and academic goals within the school system.

Curriculum Director Missy Ellenberger said state assessments have been waived for nearly all of the standardized tests students take at the end of the year.

In elementary schools, all of the end-of-year or end-of-grade standardized tests and assessments, including the fifth grade science test, have been waived.

In middle school, end-of-grade tests for language and math in grades 6-8, the NCFE (North Carolina Final Exams) for social studies and science in grades 6-7 and end-of-grade test in science and Math I for students in eighth grade have been waived.

In high school, end-of-course tests in 10th grade English, biology and Math I, as well as NCFE tests in 9th, 11th and 12th grade English, Math II and Math III, pre-calculus, physical science, chemistry, physics, world history, civics, American history I and II and CTE post-assessment have been waived.

“The jury is still out on Read to Achieve,” said Ellenberger of the third grade reading program and assessment that provides extra help to students reading below grade level. “At this time summer camps are on hold until we get further guidance from the state.”

Ellenberger said the focus of CTE (career/technical education) classes is away from final exams and toward credentials, such as those for programs by Adobe, Microsoft, etc.

“There’s a heavier emphasis being put on the credentialing,” said Ellenberger.

She said if students earn a credential in a certain program that could put them ahead of other applicants for a technological job.

“They’re going to save the employer money on time and training because they’ve already received credentials,” said Ellenberger, who added that credentialed students also could start at a higher salary. “So, there’s some definite benefits for that.”

Ellenberger said in 2018-19 the school system had 137 percent of its CTE students receive credentials. She said the percentage is greater than 100 percent because students can receive more than one credential in a course.

By comparison, in the same year, Polk County had 111 percent, Henderson County had 121 percent and Buncombe County had 93 percent receive credentials.

“This is very important as we move toward meeting the goals of myfutureNC,” said Superintendent Jeff McDaris.“These credentials are an important key to that.”

The goal of myfutureNC is to have enough North Carolinians in the workforce available to meet the growing demand for technical and professional jobs in the future.

With the waiving of standardized tests and the move toward earning credentials in CTE programs, as well as the transition to remote learning, questions have arisen as to how teachers should grade or assess students.

Ellenberger said the state has published the critical factors schools must meet if they plan to continue giving students “hard grades.”

Those factors include: instructional accessibility to all students and responsiveness to diverse learning groups; consistent communication between students and teachers; addressing the curricular and instructional needs with appropriate standards; evidence of student learning; and consideration of the whole child as well as the child’s home learning environment.

If these critical factors are met, then schools may assign grades in a format the school already uses.

If a school does not meet all the critical factors, then a student’s grades cannot be negatively impacted; teachers, however, are still expected to provide feedback.

Due to the fact that students are no longer in a physical classroom, the state also has released guidelines for elementary, middle and high schools.

Ellenberger said the focus at the elementary school level is on student growth and teacher feedback and “not worry about what the grade is.”

Ellenberger said if grades are given for the spring semester in grades 6-11, the expectations would be different.

“The expectations just can’t be the same if I’m sitting in a classroom with you,” she said. “The pace is different and the expectations have to be different.

She said feedback to students about their performance is the most important thing at this time and added that if schools re-open by May 15, then the state would provide more guidance on grading at that time.

Regarding graduation, Ellenberger said, “Our seniors are in really good shape,” she said.

The state requires students to pass 22 classes in order to graduate. Students in Transylvania County Schools can take 32 classes during their four years of high school.

Ellenberger said high school students have received a numerical grade for their fall semester classes, but would only receive a pass or withdrawal designation for their spring semester classes.

She said a lot of seniors had done enough work to pass their classes when schools went to virtual learning in March, but teachers are still trying to keep them engaged.

Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi stressed that students and their caregivers have a responsibility for students to continue to learn.

Board member Alice Wellborn said she teaches a college class, and she had just one week to transition her instruction to online learning.

“My hat is off to every teacher in this system because it is hard,” she said of making the transition and motivating students.

Wellborn said that even though she works with college students, getting some students to do things is like “dragging them through the swamp.”

“It’s a whole mind shift,” said Ellenberger. “They (teachers) have embraced it and are working harder than they probably ever have.”

She said the current situation is unlike the previous virtual days that were implemented when bad weather struck because, under the latter scenario, if a student did not do the assigned work for two or three days, the teacher could help the student catch up in a few days.

Board member Marty Griffin, however, said having virtual days allowed the school system to “start ahead of the curve” because it already had enough computers for the students and both teachers and students have had some prior experience with distance learning.

Board Attorney Chris Campbell addressed some of the questions that have arisen regarding services for students classified as exceptional children (EC).

He said the latest direction from the federal government is there is no provision requiring school systems to provide special services during this change due to COVID-19, but that school systems should provide those services to “the greatest extent possible.”

Campbell said that it is unknown at this time whether or not schools will be required to provide “compensatory education.”

An example of compensatory education is when a speech therapist leaves the school system and it takes the system two weeks to have a replacement.

During that time a student might miss four speech therapy sessions. Once a new speech therapist is in place, the student would make up those four missed sessions in addition to receiving their normal amount of speech therapy.

Campbell said the federal government has not issued any directions regarding making up sessions or services that are not provided during the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite the lack of direction, Campbell said, “Your (EC) staff is doing literally the best they can. We’re documenting what is being provided. We’re documenting what is not being provided.”

He said EC staff members are in constant communication with both parents and students.

Griffin asked if EC teachers are still going to homes to provide services as they might during normal times.

“No one is going to the home right now,” said Campbell.

Campbell said teachers are communicating by computer or cell phones.

Board members in general praised teachers for being innovative and taking extra time to help and communicate with parents and students in the last month.

Board member Courtney Domokur also praised parents.

“I do want to recognize the parents right now who are working full-time at home and trying to adjust to these new schedules. We very much appreciate everything you (the parents) guys are doing.”

She also said it is difficult for teachers who are parents because they have to help their own children in addition to teaching others.

Kiviniemi agreed, noting that his son and daughter-in-law are going through same thing in Kentucky, teaching students from home while also teaching their own children.

“It’s challenging,” he said.

 
 

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