Lawmakers hear update on student participation in the last academic year

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers expressed concerns over virtual public school and its impact on student attendance, participation and performance due to COVID-19.

Tuesday, members of the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard from the Kentucky Department of Education and a few school district leaders on participation in virtual learning throughout the last academic year.

Jessica Carlton, KDE assistant director in the Division of District Support, said 29 school districts were selected at random to submit participation data for one elementary school, middle school and high school within the district. Two out of the three reports, October 2020 and January 2021, have been published so far.

“Participation rates that we’ve seen were in line with attendance rates that we’ve seen in the past,” Carlton said.

According to KDE’s presentation, 11.35% of students in remote learning did not participate on the days selected for the study. Participation was measured by looking to see if a student logged on to meet with their class or teacher or logged on to work on assignments.

Following KDE’s presentation, lawmakers heard from leaders from three school districts. Dr. Sally Sugg, superintendent at Shelby County Schools, Robert Harmon, director of pupil personnel for Adair County Schools and Steve Hill, director of pupil personnel at Fayette County Public Schools, all said while there were challenges, teachers worked hard to meet students’ needs.

Stories of some students having to care for younger siblings while parents worked during the day or students having to work to help support their families during the pandemic were common across school districts. These extra burdens made it difficult for some students to participate in school during regular school hours.

All three speakers shared how teachers and administrators made home visits, phone calls and video calls, sometimes early in the morning or late into the evening, to meet the diverse needs of the students and their families.

Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, praised administrators, teachers, parents and students for getting through a difficult year, but said he has some concerns about the impact the pandemic and virtual learning has had on learning.

“Despite their best efforts, I think we’re going to see significant academic deficiencies in schools,” Riley said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, asked when achievement gap information results would be available for the 2020-21 school year.

Kelly Foster, from the KDE Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, told West that the state assessment results come in in September or early October, but not all students participated this year. Foster added that other assessments were completed throughout the school year so districts would know how students were doing in real-time.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting is scheduled for July 6 at 11 a.m.

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