Educators adjust to e-learning context
Last updated 4/1/2020 at 3:57pm | View PDF
Even before Gov. JB Pritzker announced Tuesday that Illinois schools will remain closed through April 30, leaders in Hinsdale High School District 86 were preparing for an extended period of online instruction.
One of their decisions was to cancel spring break, set to take place this week, opting instead to have students participate in e-learning. Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said she responded to 200 emails Sunday from parents and students about the decision. She said she is confident she made the right decision.
“I feel that this weekend and this week is a psychological milestone for the community,” she said. “I think it’s becoming really real now. It’s really important when you are in trauma or you are unsettled to keep things as routine and as normal as possible,” she said.
The decision will keep students connected with their teachers, social workers and counselors, she added. It also will mean the final day of school can be moved up a week from May 28 to May 21.
At last week’s school board meeting, Prentiss recognized the decision would affect teachers who are struggling to find care for their own children or who had planned to spend time this week preparing virtual lessons for students.
“We continue to find ways to support our teachers because we recognize this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint,” she said.
Board member Kevin Camden, who attended the March 26 meeting in person, said he greatly appreciated the work of his daughter’s world language teacher and the accessibility of instructors.
“The uncertainty is really the biggest problem for the students,” he said, adding that the repetition and rigidity of a daily schedule is helpful.
At the state level, Monday marked the switch from what had been designated as “Act of God” days to “remote learning days.”
“Remote learning will look different for every district and maybe even for every school. School districts will create plans based upon their local resources and their needs,” Pritzker said at his Tuesday COVID-19 news conference in Chicago.
Prentiss said District 86 was in an excellent position to institute remote learning after electing last spring to take advantage of a new state process that allows e-learning to be used instead of snow and emergency days. The district was required to develop a plan and submit it to the DuPage County Regional Office of Education, hold a public hearing, work with the teachers union and receive board approval.
A 63-member advisory group convened by the Illinois State Board of Education has issued a list of remote learning recommendations. The group encourages a “do no harm” approach when it comes to grading and suggests a pass/incomplete grading model.
In District 86, students will receive grades on “formative” assessments, although those grades won’t count. They are designed to provide information to teens and their parents, Prentiss said.
“You know relative to that task how well you’re understanding it in this remote learning environment,” she said.
Grades on “summative” assessments will be included in a student’s grade calculation. At the end of the marking period, teachers will compare a student’s grade as of March 13 to the current grade and determine if an override is necessary. The lowest grade a student can receive for second semester either the March 13 grade or an incomplete.
“We will issue an incomplete (if necessary) and we are OK with that,” Prentiss said. “We are not using a pass/fail. We want you to show your teacher you have a core understanding of this third and fourth quarter material so you are ready for next year.”
All state assessments for spring 2020, including the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, Illinois Science Assessment, SAT and Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment, have been suspended. ISBE is working with the College Board to develop options to allow current juniors to take the SAT in the fall.
Prentiss said teachers, parents and students all need to work together during these unprecedented times and praised the work of educators in the district.
“We are working 15 hours a day in meetings and being creative,” she said. “We are righting this ship and recreating things — doings things we didn’t know we were capable of.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s the right thing to do for our students.”