Among the many concerns about the impact of prolonged remote learning are the potential achievement gaps it will leave in education. We are fortunate in our district to have access to many of the components that support learning at home, like technology, internet connectivity, online learning platforms, and of course, a support system to best prepare our teachers for the shift. The Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD) has dedicated significant time developing the MBUSD Distance Learning Objectives to ensure the success of our schools as we start the 2020-21 year. For immediate assistance teachers, parents and students are encouraged to refer to the MBUSD Distance Learning Resource Portal for help on any challenges they may encounter.
After significant funds were raised at the virtual Wine Auction during the summer, the MBEF Board was able to increase their grant to MBUSD to support programs that were impacted by budget cuts earlier in the year, as well as support distance learning for the 2020/21 academic year. Funding for distance learning was earmarked to support online curriculum and a Distance Learning Teacher on Special Assignment (DL TOSA) at the district level and Distance Learning Collaborators (DLC) at school sites. Funding from the CARES Act is supporting an additional DL TOSA to reach all grade levels more effectively.
These new roles have been critical to embrace a robust shift in curriculum and best practices for the remote school day. The weeks prior to the first day of school were full of teacher trainings, schedule adjustments, and outreach to families regarding remote learning expectations. Professional development via Zoom included sessions on general online practices, such as Zoom for Education, Intro to Google Classroom, and Tools for Engagement. Subject and grade level specific sessions were also offered, including Secondary Math Best Practices, Elementary Science, and STEMscopes. Similar sessions are now being developed for parents and will be publicized in the weeks ahead.
The role of the Distance Learning Collaborator (DLC) has been instrumental in ensuring all teachers are able to incorporate the learned best practices into their teaching, including troubleshooting challenges. Teachers and students have experienced challenges with the start of the year and the dedicated staff are poised to respond quickly to ensure the focus returns to student learning. The DLC’s at the secondary level each have expertise in a variety of online learning tools and are available for their peers to address challenges as they come up. In addition to the immediate daily requests, the DLC’s at Mira Costa have a set time frame on Wednesdays in which they support teachers. This has proven to be highly successful for troubleshooting challenges and encouraging.
Equally important to a strong distance learning program is the ability for teachers to assess all students to meet their educational needs, a task not easily completed over Zoom. In addition to the personal connection teachers build with their students in a typical classroom, in-person assessments have been a key tool for determining educational pathways. The district dedicated a portion of the MBEF funding for Renaissance, an online educational resource for educators that provides key tools for inside and outside the classroom. MBUSD educators in grades 1-5 recently completed the Renaissance Star Assessments in both English Language Arts and Math to better understand student needs to build personalized pathways. California Common Core State Standards are built into Renaissances’ program so that teachers can utilize the assessments to immediately direct student work through learning platforms like Freckle Math and myOn. Next, the DL TOSAs will work with teachers to guide instruction and create appropriate break-out groups for students.
Ultimately, these assessments will be instrumental in measuring achievement gaps and comparing data districtwide by grade level, something that had not been possible in the past. Our schools will be better equipped to identify what practices are working based on student outcomes on the common assessment and share out best practices to those that may be struggling. Plus, when MBUSD moves to a hybrid scenario and eventually back to school full-time, the Renaissance tools and assessments will carry over and provide a road map for teachers to better meet a student’s needs along the way.
Although the challenges presented by distance learning are many, it has pushed schools across the country to be more adaptable and innovative in traditional practices, leading to some truly amazing outcomes for student learning.