Vernon schools struggle to stem learning loss caused by pandemic

Vernon. The student fail rate has doubled at the high school during the first marking period. The school is addressing the systemwide problem through summer school, a tutor/mentor program, and a new curriculum to be written by teachers.

| 18 Feb 2021 | 12:49

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a drag on student achievement.

To address the problem, the Vernon Township School District is planning three programs — a tutor/mentor program, a summer academic camp program, and a curriculum writing program — aimed at combating falling grades amid virtual and hybrid instruction.

The federal government passed the Coronavirus Response & Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, an $81.88 billion bill that addresses learning loss in schools. At first district officials believed the money was coming in the spring, but Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay said it wasn’t arriving until June.

A third of the money is going to K-12 private schools.

In the tutor/mentor program, teachers will be assigned a group of struggling students and will work one to three hours per week with them to get them through to June.

McKay said they are starting the program in Glen Meadow Middle School through funding from another grant.

Four-week summer programs for each grade level will address learning loss when school is out. McKay said they could use this program in grades K-6 or older students if they are willing to come in. It can also be used for high school students who fail classes.

“We’re very concerned about the 11th and 12th grade, and we should consider a summer-school situation to make up those classes,” McKay said. “As they get closer to senior year, they might find themselves in a bind.”

He said these programs are popular in the younger grades, but high school students are less likely to participate unless they can earn credits.

The third program would get teachers together to write a new curriculum or make adjustments to the current one.

“By the end of the year, teachers will know spots in the curriculum where there is concern and what parts they didn’t get to,” McKay said. “We hope they would establish what the loss was and what students need to focus on and pass that along to the next level of teachers.”

Currently, 11 percent of Vernon high school students are failing half their classes.

At Vernon Township High School 287 students failed 841 classes in the first marking period, and 325 students failed 993 classes.

“That’s more than twice as many from last year,”McKay said.

Many students are thriving

On the other end, there were 57 students on the Vernon Township High School honor roll in marking period 1, but 45 in the second.

“That’s not a bad number because some went to high honors,” McKay said.

There were more high honor roll students from the first to second quarter and more principal’s honors in the second.

“There are many students who are thriving, and they’re thriving through the work of the great teachers, and they’re thriving at home with great support,” McKay said.

In Glen Meadow, 187 students failed 468 classes in the first quarter, and 182 failed 425 in the second, with the highest numbers coming in the eighth grade.

At Lounsberry Hollow, 194 students registered As and Bs in the first marking period. And in the second marking period, out of the 104 classes failed by 72 students, 60 were “specials.”

“In most cases, more students saw growth last year than this year,” McKay said. “We’re not sure if we’re seeing enough growth as we’re coming toward testing. This lack of growth is going to show on the testing. We don’t have the testing from last year, so we don’t have the comparison.”

He stressed, however, that the district is not alone in battling lagging achievement this year.

“It’s not a Vernon problem,” McKay said. “It’s a national problem. We’re going to do everything we can.”