NEWPORT — While younger students have adjusted comparatively better to learning from home, many adolescents have struggled since the transition to remote learning in late March, resulting in a staggering increase in students either failing subjects or not submitting classwork.
In Newport, where 66% of Newport High School students are failing at least one subject in the current fourth quarter, even the school board is communicating to families.
Newport High School Principal Shannon Martin told the school board on Thursday that with less than seven weeks remaining in the school year, the number of students with at least one failing grade has more than doubled — from 32% of students in the third quarter to 66% in the fourth — since the school district began remote learning on Monday, March 23.
Additionally, the percentage of students participating in the remote learning model — meaning students who are completing assignments or attending class meetings — has dropped 36%. Martin said that when remote learning began, 98% of students “were locked into the Google Classroom at some level.” Halfway into the current quarter, however, that student participation has fallen to 62%.
“So obviously we’re pretty concerned about that,” Martin told the board. “We’ve sat down and gone back to the drawing board about ways to support families.”
The dropoff in student participation also appears prominent in the eighth-grade cohort at Newport Middle School.
Newport Middle School Principal Sue Schroeter reported high student participation in remote learning in the sixth- and seventh-grade cohorts. In the sixth grade, for example, all but one of the cohort’s 85 students has been participating in the remote learning program. In the seventh grade, 77-90% of students are completing their work by the end of each week and the non-participation rate remains below 3%.
But in the eighth grade, only 50% of the students are completing each week and 23-28% of students aren’t participating.
Schroeter said that phone calls home have resulted in a slight improvement by some students. While the district is still discussing a strategic plan to address the student non-participation, Schroeter recommends extending remote instruction into the summer for eighth graders with academic incompletions.
“So as people can hear me,” Schroeter said. “Summer school is what we’re looking at, because if you want to go to high school you have to get the work done.”
The high school has also been making phone calls to students, Martin said. Martin’s team of administrators and guidance counselors have followed a policy of personally calling any student whose grade drops by 15 points or more in a subject. Additionally, her team plans to extend calls to every student, regardless of academic status, to give “kudos” for staying on top of classwork and encouragement in the remaining weeks of school.
Some families have been difficult to reach, according to Martin. In some situations, the district’s phone list has an outdated phone number. Sometimes the phone’s mailbox is full so the school cannot leave a message.
In an effort to help spread a message to the school community, board member Ann Spencer released a press statement on Thursday about the situation.
“[At the board meeting], Martin outlined the many ways that school personnel reach out to students, but some students are not responding,” Spencer wrote. “When this happens there is — of course — a concern of the student not submitting work and therefore not passing.”
In her letter, Spencer includes a list of resources available to students which includes paper copies of work, Chromebooks for students without computers, weekly meetings with class advisors, one-on-one meetings with teachers and guidance counselors.
Newport Schools Superintendent Brendan Minnihan also said that the school is trying to pair students needing support with paraprofessionals (also referred to as paras) with availability in their schedules.
“Some of our district’s paras are working with the students at a particular time, some of our paras are contacting a student three or four times a day,” Minnihan said. “Other paras are helping with our deliveries and some of our paraprofessionals are helping with the cleaning work.”
In her team’s communications with students, Martin said there appears to be a “whole host of reasons” why students have not been participating in their remote classes. She included a list of her findings in a written report to the school board.
Newport High School senior Braydon Kraft, 17, said many of his classmates have struggled lately with “senioritis” — a term describing the habit of complacency that can befall high school seniors in the months before their graduation.
“The hardest part is that most of us have been looking forward to all our senior activities — like the Senior Banquet, Senior Skip Day and the class trip — and having had all that taken away from us,” Kraft told the Eagle Times in a telephone interview on Monday.
Despite a brief bout of senioritis himself, Kraft said he got himself back on track.
“I had to remind myself that I’m not done yet,” he said.
Kraft said that the quantity of work in remote learning is considerably light, so he has been able to stay atop his workload fairly easily. What seems to make remote learning more difficult than traditional learning is not being physically in the classroom or having that direct help from a teacher when needed.
“Though not being in the classroom has been better for me because I haven’t had any distractions,” Kraft said, adding that he made student honor roll last quarter for the first time in high school.
Newport School Board Chair Linda Wadensten, who is also a parent of a high schooler, said that the transition to remote learning has been hard for parents as well as students, particularly once the student’s academic motivation wanes. She has encouraged teachers, paraeducators and administrators to continue reaching out to these students in the final weeks.
Wadenstein also hopes the administration will design a summer school extension to give failing students “a second chance” to complete their work for credit.
“I’m not certain that, if they don’t want to do it now, that they will do it remotely in the summer,” she admitted, “but we will do what we can to get the kids through.”
While concerned by the data, Minnihan noted that this trend of student nonparticipation appears to be a statewide problem, not exclusive to Newport.
On a positive note, student participation in remote learning has been comparably high in Newport’s elementary school.
According to Richards Elementary School Principal Phil Banio, total student participation in grades K-5 jumped from 60% in the first week to 85% the following week, and stood at 87% total participation at the end of April.
“I think those numbers speak to some hard work by Richards teachers and some really hard work by Richards parents,” Banio told the school board. “Our kids are really trying and we are robustly intervening with students who are struggling or students whom we aren’t getting any work from.”