Last updated 4/14/2020 at 9:56am
Since Gov. Roy Cooper decided to close all K-12 schools through May 15, the state has decided to waive its end-of-grade and end-of-course standardized tests. School systems also should not give students grades, especially lower grades, unless the schools can meet several specific criteria. Instead, the state wants teachers to focus on instruction, feedback and student growth to the greatest extent possible.
Establishing these different expectations for students is a prudent move. It would be foolish to attempt to hold students accountable to the same degree they would have been held to if COVID-19 had not hit.
All schools in the state have transitioned to distance learning, but the quality of that learning varies widely not only across the state but also within schools. Even if every student has a comparable computer or electionic device, they probably do not have the same Internet transmission capacity. The problem is compounded in families with several children who are attempting to do their online work at the same time.
Students also do not have the same technological skills. Some are quite savvy while others are relative novices, particularly when attempting to resolve a technological problem. Like most of us, they are adept at using certain programs but are stymied whenever there is a technological glitch.
The best reason for changing expectations, however, is the loss of face-to-face contact with their teachers. Parents have temporarily replaced teachers in this role. Most parents are doing the best they can to teach their children, but they do not have training on how to provide proper feedback and many do not have the requisite knowledge to answer their children’s questions correctly. The problem is exacerbated when the child has a learning disability or the subject is more advanced, such as Algebra II.
In addition to now instructing their children, parents are still having to do their full-time jobs and run their households. To expect them to also fulfill the role of a teacher is unfair and unreasonable.
Teachers are making themselves accessible to their students and helping them any way possible. However, teachers are unable to quickly scan all of their students – as they can in the classroom – to see if they are all on task. Unlike the classroom, if a single student has a question, it’s that single student who receives the answer. Nearly everyone has had an instance in school when most of the class did not understand a concept but only one courageous student was willing to raise his or her hand to request a more detailed explanation; yet, when the explanation was given every student benefited, not just the child who asked the question.
During this time of social distancing, we also need to set different expectations for working adults. For example, the skills of professional athletes are going to diminish no matter how diligent they are trying to stay in shape or hone their skills. Batters only become more proficient by facing pitchers in true competition. A basketball player may shoot hundreds of baskets a day, but that is nothing like shooting while being closely guarded.
Tele-medicine has it uses, but it restricts doctor’s information to just visual and verbal clues. The sense of touch – to see if glands or lymph nodes are swollen, if joints have the proper mobility – is unavailable. Even visual clues are restricted. How can a doctor look inside one’s ear or throat for infection? How can a dermatologist look at a patient’s entire body, particularly the back, for skin cancer?
Then there are jobs in which demand has spiked greatly but the number of employees to meet that demand has not. Unemployment insurance claims nationwide jumped from 211,00 for the week ending March 7 to 6.6 million for the week ending March 28. That is a 3,000 percent increase in unemployment insurance claims in just three weeks, and the situation has gotten worse. No matter how efficient a department’s staff, or updated its equipment is or how well it can train newly-hired temporary staff, they are not going to be able to accommodate a 3,000 percent increase in demand. That is no comfort to those who were just getting by and truly need those benefits to survive, but it is unreasonable to assume that such claims can be processed quickly.
For the next few months we need to adjust our expectations and focus on maintaining, not necessarily improving, our skills and health.