Distance Learning

There is a lot of talk about what happens to schools this fall, in the face of a virus that is just not letting up. Will they open as usual? Will they stay closed, with students continuing online classes from home? Or will there be some combination of both?

Alexandria schools did as well as could be expected with distance learning this spring. Our schools issue Chromebooks to all but the youngest kids at the start of each school year. So all students have a computer at home. Unfortunately, a lot do not have wifi at home, or have unreliable wifi (mine is pretty spotty, especially with all three of us using it so much more). The schools tried to get mobile hot spots into every house, but I don’t think they were able to get access for everyone. And elementary-school kids have received paper-based “learning packets” so they can make some progress even if they don’t have good internet access.

So teachers were doing online learning, but expectations were low, with super generous grading. For high school, 3rd-quarter assignments due after schools shut down on March 13 became optional. And all 4th-quarter grades were Pass/No Grade. Students who completed at least 60% of the work got a Pass, which averaged into the GPA as a 100. Those who did not do the work got a No Grade, which didn’t average into their GPAs at all, to minimize the impact to the GPAs of students who just could not learn online, for whatever reason. My own son chose not to do some of the work and take the No Grade. I thought that was a mistake, personally. Our weak internet access made attendance challenging at times. But even when he went to the Zoom classes, he struggled with actually doing the work. He just couldn’t stay focused on the online classes; he’s someone who really needs that in-person interaction.

The system leaves a lot to be desired, but I think most of our teachers did an amazing job, given the constraints they were under.

Then came AP tests. He had two of them: Statistics and US Government, and doesn’t have his results yet. If school had continued as usual, I’m sure he would have had 4s and 5s, as he did on all of his 10th- and 11th-grade APs. But I’m guessing the inconsistent learning since March — and his lack of motivation for online learning — will take its toll. The College Board put out shorter tests this year, covering only a portion of the usual material, and everything was done from home, online, and open-book. We’ll see how that went.

Alexandria Schools have not yet announced a plan for fall, so I’m not sure what will be happening locally. So far, James Madison University is planning on in-person classes on campus, as usual, but with more distancing and new rules about masks and such. I’m not sure if the school will be able to go through with that plan; the virus seems to be resurging as it is, and we’re still in the first wave. But it seems that all we can do is prepare as if school is going to happen.

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