E-learning not a ‘free pass’ to the next grade for students

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Michiana students continue to adjust to full-time online instruction as schools close amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Penn-Harris-Madison Schools have utilized eLearning for several years. District spokesperson Lucha Ramey tells 16 News Now that Dr. Jennifer McCormick, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, instructed educators in a Tuesday webinar to “...to not be ‘punitive’ and to focus as much as possible on ‘providing meaningful feedback.’” Ramey went on to say: “This is what PHM has been doing. The expectation will be that students will be promoted to the next grade (with a very few potential exceptions, which is what typically happens during a normal school year).”

Dr. Susan Devetski, the chief academic officer at South Bend Community Schools, reported something similar.

“We have every intention of promoting every student, whether that’s graduation or to the next grade level, assuming they are completing the courses online and working with their teachers online,” said Devetski. “I feel like our teachers have a pretty good sense of what our students are accomplishing and can grade that accordingly.”

Niles Community Schools also released a statement Wednesday:
“At present, the only official directive we have received from the Governor is that schools will be closed through April 13. That being said, we are working hard to proactively develop detailed plans so the district is prepared for a variety of potential scenarios. We are collaborating with other area superintendents to identify best practices moving forward while we continue to pursue additional information and next steps from the state. We stand ready to update students and families accordingly, once the information is received.”

Regarding questions of students having to take required summer school due to eLearning, PHM and SBCSC said that is not the case. Ramey at PHM says, “Our goal as of right now is to continue with our plan to offer summer school for those students we feel would benefit. If a change is made from the IDOE related to summer school offerings, we will alter our plan as needed.”

SBCSC intends to proceed with in-person summer school and camps this year, but that could change, based upon directives from the state, as well.

In the meantime, South Ben district officials have found that eLearning affords teachers, at times, to have more quality one-on-one conversations virtually with students without the distractions of a classroom. Teachers are using Google Hangouts video chat service to check in with children and their parents. SBCSC is also allowing all parents (and students) to take a weekly survey to report their experiences with eLearning. The plan is to aggregate the data and give the feedback to schools.

But some things can’t be replicated across a computer screen.

“I think the hardest thing, really, is maintaining that relationship for students and children, especially,” Devetski described. “They thrive on routine, and it’s really hard. It’s a big adjustment. We’re hearing positive things [about eLearning], but we sure would like to be back in schools and seeing them face-to-face.”

Devetski said the positive feedback the district has received about eLearning has prompted early discussions about implementing it more when students return to school buildings.