Teachers deal with how to track students during distance learning


Photo: Brian Feulner / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris

Kai Sánchez, 14, takes an online Spanish class from one of her teachers at Half Moon Bay High School on April 1, 2020 at her home in Half Moon Bay.

Taking attendance has taken on new meaning for schools as distance learning becomes the new normal during the pandemic.

Schools are not required to participate at this time to receive state funding based on average daily attendance, said California Department of Education spokesman Scott Roark. But districts are encouraged to monitor student engagement and performance in distance learning to see how well it is working.

Also, many teachers simply want to keep in touch with their students. Partly that is to see that they are up to date with their courses, but also to make sure they are getting the resources they need and are safe.

The way teachers track attendance and participation takes many forms. Some monitor who uses online learning platforms. Others make regular contact with their students individually through calls, emails, or virtual office hours.

Many online learning platforms, like the Google Classroom, allow teachers to see who logs in daily and watches prerecorded lessons or homework delivery.

Some districts, like West Contra Costa Unified and San Diego Unified, to have demandre their teachers to assist in some way. But that data is not shared with the state, and students are not penalized for not participating. It is largely up to the teachers to decide what counts as a student present.

At Mira Vista Elementary School in Richmond, which serves grades K-8, teachers attend in the form of daily “check-ups,” said principal Gabriel Chilcott. So far, 80% of the school’s students have regular access to distance learning, Chilcott said. Teachers not only make sure students get involved, they make sure they do well.

Brett Lackey, who teaches seventh grade at Mira Vista, does this by having all of his 52 students complete a daily online form, which only he sees. They usually have what he calls a “dumb” question, the answers to which Lackey will share during his office hours or on a graph to share with the class. Some recent questions include “If animals could talk, which would be the grossest thing”, “Would you rather start a colony on another planet or be the leader of a small country on another planet or be the leader of a small country on Earth” ? or “You have discovered that you are living in a giant social experiment. How do you try to make people know about this experiment without being too obvious?

“While these questions seem silly, they somehow really allow students to get into discussions and create a sense of community despite distance learning,” said Lackey. “They hope to see the results of the surveys at the end of the week to see how their responses compare to the rest of the class.”

Not everyone wants to complete the daily form, Lackey said, so he considers a student to be present if he completes or attempts to complete his daily assignments online. Lackey also has daily “business hours” in which students can video chat with him through Zoom. That also counts as a student present. Lackey has even sent postcards to student homes that he still can’t reach.

The school maintains a shared document of students accessing online distance learning materials, Chilcott said. His office receives a list of non-participating students and communicates with his parents.

“We call and try to help families,” said Chilcott. “This is a very difficult time, so we are trying to be fluid and come from a place of grace and forgiveness for all members of our community.”

Chris Miraglia, an eighth-grade history teacher at Mendez Fundamental Middle School in Santa Ana uses Google Meet to see who attends his virtual classes, even though he is not required to attend.

“Since I’m actually doing enrichment instruction, it’s important to keep track of who is registering,” Miraglia said by email, referring to instruction that can only improve a student’s grade, but not decrease it.

For students who do not attend virtual classes, Miraglia checks if they have turned in the assignments. He said that about a quarter of his class has not given up on a single task since switching to distance education. He will call the parents of those students, but many of his students have numbers that are no longer in service, he said.

The primary concern of many teachers right now is that their students have computers, tablets, or Wi-Fi to access online learning.

Another important question is whether the basic needs of your students are met at home.

For Reyna Guerra, who teaches special education math at Fremont High School in Oakland, her way of attending is to keep in touch with her students. He calls students and parents, makes himself available to students who need help, and communicates with friends of students who don’t keep in touch. It is more important to keep track of whether or not students have completed their weekly math homework, he said.

“The main thing is that you are fine, you are safe, have you eaten today? I am taking it very slowly academically, because who can learn in this situation? “Guerra said.

Los Angeles Unified is tracking how many students log into the various online learning platforms on a daily and weekly basis, what platforms students use, how much time they spend on Zoom lessons, and how many tasks students are assigned. In April, 98% of high school students and 75% of elementary students had accessed online distance learning, spokeswoman Barbara Jones said.

At Long Beach Unified, teachers, administrators, and counselors are actively reaching out to families whose students have not accessed online distance learning materials, picked up homework packets, pulled out Chromebooks, or interacted with teachers from home, said the Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Jill Baker. Students will not be penalized if they are not doing these things, Baker said.

San Diego Unified is tracking how many students are logging into digital platforms and will publicly announce its weekly participation rate for the rest of the year. Before the district formally launched its distance learning plan, the district said it had an online attendance rate of 90%.

“The district feels it is important for everyone to know that this school year is still important,” said San Diego Unified spokeswoman Maureen Magee.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner, in a message to school communities last month, said the district traditionally measures student participation through attendance, if they behave appropriately, if they feel part of school progress and academic. The district is now challenged to assess how students are doing while learning at home.

“Educators are still figuring out how to solve this puzzle,” said Beutner. “There are many pieces and they will all have to fit neatly into the work to address each student’s unique needs.”