Report details how educators innovated, learned and adapted during the pandemic to reach students where they were and how they are now taking those lessons into a new school year
New Haven, CT (July 12, 2021) – The Connecticut RISE Network (RISE), an education non-profit that partners with nine public high schools across the state, today released Plugged In: Challenge Normal, Part II of a report documenting remote and hybrid learning experiences and the key lessons from a full year of remote and hybrid learning.
The report highlights examples of how educators pivoted during the 2020-21 school year and adopted innovative practices to bolster student success and improve the on-track status for hundreds of Connecticut students. After offering systems leaders, educators, families, and students recommendations in Part I, RISE encouraged school communities to leverage midyear data the report collected, think outside the box to improve student engagement and academic performance and remain flexible as students transition to in-person learning during the 2021-22 school year.
Since many schools are still collecting and verifying performance and enrollment data for the 2020-21 school year, Plugged In: Challenge Normal focuses on the ways educators applied the recommendations from Part I of this report.
“In this follow-up report, we are excited to shine a light on the incredible perseverance, creativity, and resilience shown by students, educators, and caregivers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Emily Pallin, RISE Executive Director. “As we look ahead to the 2021-22 school year and prepare for a new post-pandemic reality, conversations cannot and should not focus exclusively on learning loss. In fact, we must celebrate and extend learning gains made by school communities across our state. The pandemic forced all of us to challenge the status quo; moving forward, we must challenge ourselves to sustain this spirit of innovation and improvement to make all of our schools excellent and equitable learning environments for all students. .”
Across the network, RISE educators found innovative ways to meet student needs and address new gaps between remote and hybrid students. By responding to the emerging data, getting creative, and being attentive to the unique ways students were experiencing the pandemic, RISE partner schools and districts were able to increase engagement and promote on-track achievement.
This new report is an important step in understanding the impact of remote and hybrid learning, and preparing for a post-pandemic reality. These lessons will benefit both educators and students going forward in both hybrid and in-person teaching.
On average, RISE did not see a significant change in the percentage of remote students across their network from the first quarter to the fourth quarter, meaning that relatively few remote learners returned for in-person instruction in spring 2021. RISE found there was a one percent decrease in remote students network-wide, which was driven largely by a one percentage point decrease in the number of remote students in Grade 9. There was no change, on average, in the percentage of students in Grades 10-12 in RISE’s network who were learning remotely.
Several promising new practices emerged during the 2020-21 school year that provide examples of how school communities can continue to challenge the status quo during the upcoming school year and beyond. Further detailed in the report, the highlighted practices include:
- Saturday, evening, and spring break “get it done” sessions: Of the 55 students from Maloney and Platt high schools that attended special Saturday sessions to help students catch up on their classwork, 71 percent of them went from being off-track to being on track.
- Naugatuck’s Reset Program: At Naugatuck High School, students who were projected to receive nearly zero credits after the first semester were placed into a reset program. All students in the program were brought in for full-time in-person instruction, where they became part of a single classroom and received additional targeted support. By Quarter 3, 72 percent of students in Naugatuck’s “Reset Program” went from being off-track (earning 0-3 credits) to being “Almost On-Track” (earning 4-5 credits).
- FAFSA Task Forces: The Connecticut State Department of Education’s statewide FAFSA Challenge (supported by the RISE Network) was an initiative that aimed to bring together high schools from across the state to promote best practices for FAFSA completion. In April, Platt High School in Meriden had increased its FAFSA completion rates by 19 percent compared to the same time last year. By that point in the school year, 76 percent of all students who were pursuing higher education had completed their FAFSA.
- Personalized emails from principals and student surveys: Six out of 10 RISE partner schools sent personalized emails from administrators in which students were either congratulated for being on track or encouraged to push themselves over the finish line by the end of the quarter. Although these emails were automated, student responses went directly to the administrators, allowing for open dialogue between students and school leadership. Schools also used surveys to pinpoint where students most needed assistance and more targeted support. By assigning a student engagement survey during social studies class, Manchester High School was able to get responses from 71 percent of their freshmen.
- On-Track Coordinators: On-Track Coordinators across the RISE Network used creative and personalized strategies to not only check in on students’ academic performance but also to support students’ holistic social and emotional development. In Quarter 1, only 53 percent of the fully remote On-Track Coordinator’s 56 student caseload at Hartford Public High School were on track. By the end of Quarter 3, 77 percent of them were on track.
- Virtual Community College Night: To ensure that seniors who were interested in attending community college got important updates about the application and financial aid process, two neighboring high schools, Westhill High School in Stamford and Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk started a friendly competition. When counselors at Westhill, usually start supporting community college applications, 44 percent of students interested in 2-year colleges had already applied.
The RISE Network’s latest report showcases how network high schools successfully used data from early on in the school year to identify needs and respond accordingly. It also underscores the importance of district leaders, policymakers, educators, and families working together and supporting one another during a challenging time.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, RISE educators have shown that innovation and improvement to better support student success is possible, but it will take persistence and a collaborative approach to reach all children.