SPRINGFIELD — Public K-12 schools statewide were instructed to begin remote learning days last week until in-person instruction can resume, and standardized testing in the state is canceled for the year as well.
Illinois Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala was given the authority to define and give guidance on remote learning days in a recent executive order signed by Gov. JB Pritzker in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All schools, public and private, will be closed through at least April 30 after Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended an executive order that had previously closed them through April 7. The Illinois State Board of Education’s remote learning guidance applies to public schools, but the state’s nonpublic schools are encouraged to use it to inform similar programs, according to an ISBE guidance document.
“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.
Many Illinois Quad-Cities school districts now have remote learning plans posted to their websites, in addition to a wealth of other information about resources available for families, including meals and internet access.
Shortly after listening to Prtizker’s news briefing and learning about the extended closure, Moline-Coal Valley Superintendent Rachel Savage said the district knew the news was coming, and staff has worked hard to take a proactive approach. In addition to communicating with families, Savage said the district has been in constant contact with employee groups, including support staff and AFSCME employees.
“We’ve been meeting regularly with principals all throughout the week, all virtually,” she said. “We’ve taken a proactive approach. We’ve got a fantastic curriculum department who worked to get a framework for remote learning.”
Savage said once that was established, principals and teachers of the district were able to provide feedback, and she said the district is now ready to roll out its remote learning plans.
“I’m confident we’re ready to go,” Savage said. “Not that we are experts or have ever done this before. We’re in a great place with what we have to work with.”
Superintendent Reginald Lawrence of the Rock Island-Milan School District said creating a plan for extended remote learning was a novel challenge for everyone.
“It’s not something everyone has planned for or prepared for,” Lawrence said. “Normally if we put e-learning in place, you create it based on snow days, and it’s based on how many days you are going to miss out on. You put together a package to make up a few days.”
Lawrence said it's paramount the district communicate with parents and support them as the district moved to this mode of instruction while kids were home and unable to be in front of teachers.
“We know that’s the most impactful way to educate students,” he said.
Ayala wrote in a letter posted to ISBE’s website that remote learning recommendations “strongly encourage” local districts to adopt grading models of “pass or incomplete” that “embrace the principle of ‘no educational harm to any child.’”
The remote learning guidance is based on recommendations from a 63-member advisory group of teachers, students, paraprofessionals, related service personnel, principals, and district and regional superintendents. Each district is to interpret the guidance individually and come up with a plan that fits their district.
The emergency rules on remote learning days allow for e-learning or other kinds of remote learning days, which must be approved by the school's or district's superintendent or chief administrator.
A district’s remote learning plan must consider: student access to remote or online instruction; that activities reflect state learning standards when applicable; the means by which students confer with an educator as needed; the unique needs of students in special populations; and the transition from remote learning to on-site learning when remote days are no longer necessary.
Per the guidance, remote learning can be “real-time or flexibility timed,” and it “may or may not involve technology.”
“It cannot be assumed that every family or every student has access to the necessary devices and appropriate internet connection at their home. In many cases, students categorized as ‘at risk’ by schools are the ones without access to devices or reliable internet,” according to the guidance.
According to Lawrence, the district is now surveying Rock Island-Milan families to determine who is in need of technology access at home. Savage said Moline-Coal Valley families were surveyed a few months ago, and it was determined about 85% of families have internet access and at least one device at home. Moline-Coal Valley is a 1:1 district, issuing a device to all students in grades fifth through 12 grades.
Per the state’s recommendations, students should have the opportunity to “redo, make up, or try again to complete, show progress or attempt to complete work assigned before the remote learning period in that time frame.”
“We continue to be awed by the phenomenal creativity, resilience, empathy, and problem-solving prowess of Illinois’ educators, administrators, and students,” Ayala said in a news release. “The stories we see every day on social media, in the news, and in our email show us just how focused our educators are on supporting our children in this time of crisis.”
The full remote learning recommendations can be viewed at www.isbe.net/Documents/RL-Recommendations-3-27-20.pdf.
Schools are also allotted up to five “Remote Learning Planning Days” after March 30 to plan in partnership with their collective bargaining units.
The remote learning and planning days count as actual student attendance days toward the required minimum for a school year and will not need to be made up, just like “Act of God” days, which is how canceled school days were counted from March 17 to March 30.
Teachers and other public school staff will continue to be paid as part of a deal between education associations and unions negotiated by the Pritzker administration and ISBE, and state funding from the evidence-based formula will be unaffected.
The same executive order pertaining to remote learning days also canceled testing requirements in the state, including for the SAT.
A release from the ISBE said it recognizes that the free SAT offered by the state is often the only opportunity for students to take a college entrance exam, and it is working on plans to allow 11th-grade students to take the SAT in the fall.
ISBE also released a joint guidance statement with the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Illinois Community College Board on dual credit courses.
It stated, “Dual credit instruction should continue, if at all possible, during the suspension of in-person instruction, or resume as soon as possible, to ensure students are able to meet the objectives of the dual credit course. However, that instruction must not negatively impact a student’s academic standing.”
For AP classes, for the 2019-20 exam administration only, students may take a 45-minute online exam at home “on any device they have access to — computer, tablet, or smartphone,” per another guidance document from ISBE.
That document said questions are designed in ways that prevent cheating, and the College Board is using a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software.
More information is available at www.isbe.net/covid19.
Nicole Lauer contributed to this report.
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