This page features stories of school districts or SCOE teams engaged in deep, ongoing work to improve school systems and outcomes for students..
Bridging the gap between distance and in person learning
Author: Jamie Hansen, Sonoma County Office of Education
“When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.”
—Teresa Thayer Snyder, Retired Superintendent of the Voorheesville district in upstate New York in a Facebook post highlighted on a blog by Diane Ravitch
With the prospect of bringing children back to the classroom in the weeks and months ahead, educators are turning their focus to how they will bridge the divide between distance and in-person learning.
Teachers might feel pressured to make up for lost time and close any learning gaps as soon as possible. We encourage educators to rethink what has typically been referred to as “learning loss.” While there will surely be learning gaps in core content that must be addressed, students have also learned and grown in countless other ways during the pandemic. They have gained technology skills, resiliency, adaptability, to name a few. It is important for educators to find ways to measure, honor and build on this.
By reframing the issue as “unfinished learning,” educators can turn their focus to what other learning has occurred: What new assets do students bring to the classroom? It also removes the blame from the student or family and acknowledges that learning is not always linear.
Focus on Engagement and Connection Before Content
The return to the classroom will present an opportunity to re-set the tone. It will be a chance to deepen connections with students, build positivity, strengthen student engagement, and rekindle a love of learning.
School and district curriculum leaders should keep the focus on grade-level content and rigor, addressing learning gaps as needed within the context of grade-level work.
Daily re-engagement of prior knowledge in the context of grade-level assignments will add up over time, resulting in more functional learning than if we resort to watered down instruction or try to reteach topics out of context.
“[A]void the temptation to rush to cover all of the ‘gaps’ in learning from the last school year. The pace required to cover all of this content will mean rushing ahead of many students, leaving them abandoned and discouraged,” wrote the Council of the Great City Schools in “Addressing Unfinished Learning After COVID-19 School Closures” last year. “Moreover, at a time when social-emotional wellbeing, agency, and engagement are more important than ever, instructional haste may eclipse the patient work of building academic character and motivation.”
Three Pillars to Re-Engagement and Addressing Unfinished Learning
Provide grade-level instruction
In mathematics, the focus should be on the “Big Ideas” of the grade level rather than individual standards. This allows for a deeper understanding and building of connection across the standards. A document outlining these Big Ideas will be put out from the state later this spring.
In ELA/literacy instruction, the focus should be on:
- Learning to Read
- Close Reading of Complex Text
- Volume of Reading to Build Knowledge
Teachers should focus on standards that represent these pillars. Student Achievement Partners at achievethecore.org have identified 14 instructional priority standards that represent this. These standards, and guidance on how to address them, can be found at this link
Monitor for evidence of unfinished learning
When monitoring for unfinished learning, it isn’t necessary or recommended to spend too much time testing students with systematic, high-level assessments that don’t always give the most actionable data and may cause students additional stress. The best way to monitor student progress is through authentic classroom tasks. Educators are encouraged to use formative assessment strategies to help gauge student progress.
"Achieve the Core" recommends using assessment in the following ways in order to monitor unfinished learning and identify where extra help is needed.
- Use assessment to determine how to bring students into grade-level instruction, not whether to bring them into it.
- Use assessment to center formative practices (FAST SCASS, 2018). Leverage such sources of information as exit tickets, student work, and student discussions. Use these sources of information to inform instructional choices in connection with high-quality instructional materials.
- Use assessment to employ targeted checks for very specific subject and grade-level instructional purposes.
Provide scaffolding and connection when needed
Educators are encouraged not to make assumptions about what students “didn’t get” this year or last year. When there is evidence that a student is unsure, hesitant, or struggling, that is the time to use scaffolding and support at a level that is in proportion to their needs. That is to say, avoid going straight to a massive remediation plan. Students may need just a bit of encouragement, explanation, or to see the material presented in a different way. In the event that a student does need more intensive support, be sure that any intervention or remediation is in addition to grade level content, and does not replace it.
The goal is to provide “just in time” support as teachers and students work on grade-level content instead of “just in case” remediation. The latter approach has been shown not to work in disaster contexts such as schools in Louisiana coming back after Hurricane Katrina. (Here is a resource that addresses this).
Additional Information and Resources
- This EdSource article highlights strategies for addressing learning gaps.
- Read about how the attributes identified in the Sonoma County Portrait of a Graduate are more important than ever during this time of disruption in this blog post by SCOE Director of Innovation and Partnerships, Dan Blake.
- Education Week: Students Respond to Adult Fixation on Learning Loss: In this article, educator Larry Ferlazzo writes, "If we are going to address the academic loss that may have occurred during the pandemic, then we also need to fully understand the other kinds of loss our young people have experienced and have plans in place to support them through those losses." He asks his students directly how the pandemic has affected them and what they feel they have learned and lost. He shares their insights here.
Districts, SCOE Come Together to Address Distance Learning Challenges
Grades and Social-Emotional Data Serve as a Call to Action
This fall, several Sonoma County superintendents recognized several trends related to staff and student wellbeing that caused great concern.
First, they began seeing a significant increase in students receiving failing grades, particularly in high school.
They also recognized that a large number of teachers were struggling with the stress of distance learning, managing their own families during COVID, and an intense wildfire season.
Finally, a survey conducted by the nonprofit organization YouthTruth of more than 4,500 Sonoma County high school students found that 71% reported that “feeling anxious about the future” was the number one barrier to distance learning. YouthTruth conducts surveys of high school students across California and the nation, and this finding was unique to Sonoma County. Looking at over 20,000 students across 20 other school systems (in California and across 8 other states) surveyed during the same period, the most frequently cited obstacle from those systems was “distractions at home.”
While it was no secret that distance learning and COVID-19 presented unparalleled challenges for teachers, families, and students alike, all this information, put together, served as a call to action. Urgent action was clearly needed to support the wellbeing of students and staff as well as to ensure students’ academic success.
Districts, SCOE Join Together to Confront Challenges
Superintendents came together across the high school districts to look at their data and urgently address these problems. At their request, SCOE held a convening over two, four-hour sessions for high school districts to delve into the data, hear different voices, surface bright spots, identify new strategies, and determine substantive next steps. Teams from each district attended, including teachers, counselors, principals, superintendents, and more.
They heard from students about the pressures they were facing at home and the obstacles to learning remotely (see the video highlighted below). They reviewed county-wide grade data and received a report from YouthTruth about student engagement and wellbeing.
Surfacing Bright Spots
The second day of the convening focused on surfacing bright spots and learning from those who were seeing success in distance learning.
At Rancho Cotate High School, fewer students are receiving F’s this year, in contrast to the overall county trend. Principal Louis Ganzler described his school’s “3x3” approach to scheduling, where students take just three classes each semester, for a total of six over the course of the year. Fewer courses at one time have allowed students and teachers to develop closer relationships over distance learning and has mitigated the sense of overwhelm that many students and staff are experiencing.
“We're covering the same material at the end of the year, a student (still) has six classes on their transcript, but we are seeing that it has taken an enormous amount of pressure off both students and teachers,” he said.
Brandy Raymond, Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator at Roseland Charter, shared how her district has built on the strength of teacher relationships with students and focused its efforts on parent and student outreach. This includes giving teachers time each afternoon to call and text families of students who missed class that day.
“We have an hour in the afternoon each day where teachers are reaching out to students through student support and parent communication time,” she shared. “ If students didn't show up to a class, their teachers are on the phone, they are texting them, they are emailing them. they're calling families and they're just relentless to get them to attend those zoom meetings.”
Planning Next Steps
To translate the convening into meaningful action, participants came together as district teams and in job-alike groups across school districts to discuss short-term, mid-term, and long-term next steps.
While this first event focused on high school, everyone acknowledged that these critical issues exist at the elementary and middle school levels as well. SCOE will be hosting two separate summits for elementary and middle schools in early 2020.
“These convenings, where district teams came together to address common challenges, was a very inspiring first step,” said Dr. Jennie Snyder, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction at SCOE. “This is an opportunity for districts to learn from each other and with each other as they work to improve student experiences during the pandemic and into the future. We look forward to working alongside them as they take their next steps in this endeavor.”
These gatherings represent a remarkable coming together of school leaders and educators across Sonoma County to address these urgent challenges for the sake of our children.
“We thank the school leaders who brought this forward for their vision and commitment to Sonoma County young people,” said Steve Herrington, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools. “We look forward to working alongside educators across the county to address these unprecedented challenges.”
Initiatives for Change
Author: Jamie Hansen
Today we are facing a two-fold national crisis: The Covid-19 pandemic and the call for social justice. Our students are at the forefront of experiencing the impact of both crises. Covid-19 has forced education to convert traditional classroom teaching to social distance learning. This change has brought to light the disparity among marginalized and disadvantaged students. At the same time, tragic events have led to a civil discourse for social justice and equality. This has opened the conversation on how to change the future of education for students of color. As a result, many local educators have already begun to team up to make change across our school districts.
In this month’s Learning Bulletin, SCOE is highlighting educational initiatives that are tackling some of these issues. Read on to learn more and find ways to get involved in addressing equity in distance learning.
The CARE Collective, led by SCOE’s Educational Support Services team, strives to bring educators together to share and build knowledge related to how to support students and their families during distance learning and COVID-19. Focused on equity, the Collective will address three key interrelated areas: physical safety, emotional connection, and academic learning. In order to ensure that ALL families survive and thrive, the CARE Collective unites the resources, knowledge, and cultural assets of community leaders and organizations. Educators and adults working in schools are invited to register. The first virtual gatherings are happening soon. Learn more and sign up to participate at scoe.org/carecollective.
Student Voices on Racism, Equity, and Social Justice
A series of forums called Student Voices on Racism, Equity, and Social Justice is meant to provide students of color the chance to speak directly to school leaders to share their experiences and ideas on making schools more equitable. Hosted by SCOE, these forums are designed to help school leaders learn directly from those they are serving. The first event, the Black Student Voices forum, took place Tuesday, Sept. 15. Subsequent forums this fall will feature the voices of Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous students. Learn more and register at scoe.org/classes.
Conversations in Common: A Collaborative Diversity & Inclusion Reading Project
Led by superintendents at Harmony and Forestville school districts as well as librarians and educators from across the county, this project is a synchronized, community-wide, book reading program focused on diversity, inclusion, and social justice narratives. A different text will be selected for different age ranges. A central goal of the project is to elevate the capacity of our schools, families, and communities, to engage in conversations of this nature. To receive further information about this project, please sign-up at bit.ly/ConversationsInCommon.
Equity in Education Initiative
The Equity in Education Initiative is made of representatives from a range of nonprofits, educational, and governmental organizations working together to foster equity for students. The initiative seeks to provide tools and information to help the community bring about meaningful change. This is centered on the idea that, with a greater understanding of how the system operates educators, students, and families can better advocate for equity in policymaking. Effective change starts with active listening. By opening doors, hosting forums, and seeking out marginalized voices, the EIEI initiative seeks to provide participants with an understanding of kids’ real experience in the education system and learn what ideas and programs are needed to target inequities and roadblocks.
Additional information and resources, including tools for understanding racism and bias at a personal level as well as in the classroom, are available at scoe.org/socialjustice.
Piner-Olivet Charter School focuses on academic achievement of student subgroups
Author: Sheldon Reber
Exploring the academic data points of female English learner Latinx students was a focus of the Piner-Olivet Charter School team that convened at the Rooster Fellowship held in Healdsburg on Jan. 17. The team is part of the Rooster Fellowship’s Strand B: Behavior vs. Equity in Discipline. The Rooster Fellowship is made up of 37 participants from Sonoma County schools and is facilitated by Educational Services Support staff from SCOE.
The five-member Piner-Olivet Charter School team included Kirsten Sanft, principal; Allison Meyer, English and social studies teacher; Bryan Bautista, bilingual program assistant; Aracely Romo-Flores, SCOE director of continuous improvement; and Carmen Diaz-French, superintendent.
The school team is exploring ways to better engage these students and increase their academic achievement, said Diaz-French. “This work today will lead to changes in terms of having a broader focus at our school on why seventh and eighth-grade Latinx females are one of our subgroups that need the most growth.”
Cultural questions were discussed during the meeting such as the role Latinx parents and community play in their expectations that school should be a more traditional experience for their students. This was a data point the team wanted to research further and find out if it is true: Whether Latinx parents feel school is where students received direct instruction in rows and individual desks versus some of the innovative, future-focused classrooms that feature flexible seating, collaboration, and project-based learning.
“In addition, Kirsten Sanft, the principal, and the school site have already been doing a lot of work around restorative practices,” remarked Diaz-French. “The Rooster Fellowship helped focus the conversations we can have in our parent meetings where we talk about classroom expectations, academic achievement, and share data about their students.”
This can be very important work but only when you start seeing the statistically significant data, patterns, and trends said Diaz-French.
“With the work we’re doing today with the Rooster Fellowship, I see the potential for significant change in equity for our students,” added Diaz-French. “In this group, we’re really able to dial in and it gives us the time to reflect and ask the critical questions that we may not have time for at school. It will really help us gear up for success in meeting the specific academic needs of our subgroups, such as seventh and eighth-grade Latinx female students.”
Rooster Fellowship connects local educators to data-driven ideas
Author: Sheldon Reber
A group of 20 educators from the SCOE Rooster Fellowship gathered on Dec. 4 at Santa Rosa’s CoLab to participate in a presentation from Steve McCammon, Ed.D., president of The Schlechty Center in Louisville, Kentucky. McCammon shared data-driven ideas on designing purposeful classroom instruction to increase student engagement.
McCammon remarked during his presentation, “We unlock content areas for students when we design curriculum for them using a data-driven process.”
Mayra Sosa, family engagement facilitator at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, was there with five of her school colleagues. Sosa connects English learner students and families to community resources and helps students with their college and career choices.
The Rooster Fellowship goal for 11/12-grade English learners at Elsie Allen is to achieve a higher median score on the student survey question “what we worked on today in class is important to me.”
“My focus is on students who are chronically absent,” she noted. “We have students who come from very traumatic experiences, they want to learn, they want to be at school, but they have many barriers.”
Sosa observes that for her students the social and emotional aspects of their lives “is what’s really big for them. School is a place that students say they can get their food for the day. It isn’t just a place where they learn and get their credits for graduation. For many students it’s a safe place.”
“The thing I like about the Rooster Fellowship,” continued Sosa, “is learning about new systems of student engagement. We work with data and can see how and why students react to changes.” The goal of this is to find ways for students to become more engaged and help chronically absent students overcome barriers that prevent them from attending school.
Sosa participated recently in a classroom circle with her EL students “and when we talked they said we don’t want to do ‘quick writes’ all the time because they come from another class where most of the class is writing.”
Sosa’s students told the teacher they wanted to do more interactive learning. “The teacher implemented a couple of changes and she reduced the ‘quick writes’ and added some other components so now we’re seeing they are more engaged,” said Sosa. “We’ll look back at our student surveys and analyze the data. I feel that’s the difference in how to increase student achievement.”
Rooster Fellowship looks at ways to improve student achievement
Author: Sheldon Reber
Checking assumptions about students, reflecting on classroom situations and using data to inform decisions is a focus of the Rooster Fellowship, a group of nine school teams from Sonoma County schools. School teams met in Healdsburg on Nov. 15 to share observations and discuss new ways to engage students.
The Rooster Fellowship, a SCOE initiative, looks at ways to increase student achievement through data and proven practices such as student empathy interviews. The teams, usually four or five educators, are made up of district administrators, principals, teachers, and classified employees. Participants reported that many times one small change in instruction, introduced at a Rooster Fellowship meeting, can have a large impact on student achievement.
Lindsay Misakian, a sixth grade teacher at Miwok Valley Elementary Charter School in the Old Adobe Union School District, uses Rooster Fellowship practices to change the way she teaches math.
“We conducted student empathy interviews,” said Misakian. “The students mostly said they were excited and engaged during science but less interested in math. To me that seemed like a pretty fair response that I had observed myself.”
“Our curriculum is very focused on teamwork and students are expected to be a part of a four-person team,” noted Misakian. “They cared about choice so we decided to give them a choice of groups when they worked on a lesson.”
Misakian continued “The first day felt a little chaotic to me with students choosing their own groups. Some students chose to work alone, some students chose to work in pairs, and some students chose to work in teams. I saw students who needed help congregate together and I could get to them more quickly. The students who had a high level of ability in math felt happier because they were able to go at their own pace, finish early and get started on their homework.”
Mikasian remarked that the feelings around math have really shifted in her classroom which she credits to the strategies learned from the Rooster Fellowship. “I’m seeing a lot of positive shifts among my students across all demographics and ability levels in math thanks to this process.”
EL Shadowing for Equity
Author: Jamie Hansen
A new initiative to improve equitable outcomes for English learners centers on the idea that when educators understand the educational experiences of English learners they are better equipped to make informed choices about the intentional changes needed to meet their needs.
This new initiative, organized by SCOE, is called the RISE Collaborative or Reimagining Instructional Shifts for English Learners. It includes carefully built teams from four elementary schools: La Tercera, James Monroe, Binkley, and Mark West. Each team consists of representatives from across the school system, including: school administrators, district administrators, teachers, coaches, and more. The four teams are each supported by a SCOE coach leading the work, Jenn Guerrero, EL program coordinator, Kelly Matteri, coordinator for ELA/HSS/UDL, and Aracely Romo-Flores, director for continuous improvement.
The initiative is focused on elementary schools because these strategies, when applied early, can help stop the creation of long-term English learners.
In October, each team member spent time “shadowing” an English learner within their school to gain insight into how students were engaging and what teaching strategies might help them become more engaged. They began by looking at the student’s profile, including how long they’ve been at the school site, how long they’ve been in the United States, their ELPAC and CAASPP scores, grades, and more. Then, they spent two hours closely observing the student in class. Neither the student nor teacher knew who was being observed so as to not affect their behavior.Binkley English Learner Coordinator Lauren Ridgway said the effort is “all about opening up the classroom so that we can learn from each other. When we focus on what students are actually doing and experiencing, we can shift our instruction to better serve them.”
Often, it’s found that English learners spend the majority of their school day listening to language, rather than producing language, said Guerrero. The goal of shadowing is to see what the student is experiencing day in and day out, and to then take action to disrupt the silence. Shadowing in itself can be very powerful and can create urgency, but without deliberate next steps the observations may not lead to change.
The teams are engaging in a continuous improvement process based on their observations throughout the course of the year. They have selected a strategy and created a plan-do-study-act approach to implementing the strategy at their school site. At the next meeting, they will look at data and make changes based on what has worked and what hasn’t.
“Each team is crafting intentional shifts in their instructional practice in an effort to increase student engagement. At Binkley Elementary in Rincon Valley Union School District, the team’s goal is to increase English learner engagement. In the process, they hope that their students will also begin using more oral, academic English during the school day.
“The evidence we gained from the shadowing was that students were not getting enough opportunities to practice their spoken English skills,” said Binkley Elementary Principal Hilary Kjaer. “Based on that, we are looking at how we can each go back and make a shift in our own practices to provide students with more opportunities.”
Rachel Valenzuela, assistant superintendent of educational services at Mark West Union School District, said that the first round of EL Shadowing was very motivating for their team.
“I felt the urgency behind needing to address the needs of our EL students,” said Valenzuela. “We know that there is still a wide achievement gap for these students, and the RISE Collaborative is helping us see what we can do to turn things around.”