JCPS Marty Pollio press.jpg

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio talks with reporters about the district's COVID-19 response following a March 9, 2020, news conference.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools entered its third week of nontraditional instruction with more than 86,000 students logging into Google Classrooms districtwide and participation rates topping 90% each week, Superintendent Marty Pollio said Tuesday.

Kentucky's largest school district of nearly 99,000 students is transitioning to distance learning for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, and how many students will need remedial help to get up to speed academically next school year remains to be seen.

Pollio told reporters during a virtual news conference Tuesday that JCPS will rely on assessments like Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, to identify students who have fallen behind during the district’s transition to nontraditional instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JCPS and other school systems throughout Kentucky have called off in-person learning for the rest of the school year based on guidance from Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday.

The district will give students multiple opportunities to show that they can meet academic standards in their current grades, including remedial work in the summer and fall of this year, Pollio said.

Only students in high school will continue to receive letter grades, with elementary and middle school students graded based on whether or not they meet content standards. Older students in JCPS can also receive “incomplete” grades for missing work and make those assignments up later.

Promotion to the next grades for students, he said, will be based on a “holistic” view of the entire school year.

“We’re going to give them multiple opportunities to get there whether that be in the summer or the fall, and that is the clear direction from the district about the support that we’re going to give to students,” Pollio said.

How much time teachers will need to spend helping students understand material they should have learned at the prior grade level is a “real concern” for JCPS, Pollio said, noting that the district is especially focused on providing literacy and numeracy interventions for students who have fallen behind.

It’s not as simple as trying to get students caught up over a matter of weeks during the 2020-21 school year, but rather something that schools will need to implement “over the months to come,” he said.

“We know that the standards that are being taught between March 13 and May 27, it’s going to be a little more challenging to know where kids are on each of those standards, so instructionally, we will have to look for ways to reassess, to provide interventions, to go back and work on some of those standards,” Pollio said.

JCPS has tried to bridge Louisville's "digital divide" during the extended COVID-19 closure by sending 20,000 Chromebooks to households with students who have special needs or receive reduced-price meals at school and providing more than 6,000 data hotspots to families with special education students.

Teachers will rely on MAP test results at the start of the next school year to help develop individual plans for students who have fallen behind during the COVID-19 closures, he said.

“There’s no doubt it’s going to be more work for schools, and it’s going to impact the work that teachers do as well,” Pollio said.

While 94% of JCPS students participated in nontraditional instruction at some point during the first week and 93% of them did so the second week, Pollio said that isn’t the same as classroom instruction.

Pollio has repeatedly said distance learning will not replace the kind of instruction that teachers can provide in schools.

“But I am proud that 86,403 (students) have logged in to their Google classrooms, and we will continue to hone in on as the weeks go by which kids are participating more and trying to come up with a better local understanding of that learning,” he said.

During the second week of nontraditional instruction, the district could contact about 6,400 K-12 students, according to JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy.

Pollio is also worried about the potential impacts that the novel coronavirus may bring to the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Beshear, in a conference call with superintendents on Monday, declined to speculate on whether school will remain closed at the start of the school year, saying he’s “committed to do all I can to help this state meet the benchmarks to have as normal of a school experience in the fall as possible.”

In federal guidance for states to begin easing COVID-19 restrictions unveiled by Beshear on Friday, schools would remain closed until the second of three phases of a gradual reopening of Kentucky’s economy. Each phase of the federal guideline requires states to demonstrate 14-day declines in the numbers and rates of newly identified COVID-19 cases, among other parameters.

“There was even some discussion yesterday about bringing kids in in multiple waves so that you’re not having 2,000 in a school at a time,” he said. “That gives me near a heart attack because thinking about the logistics of that, how that would work, how we would make that work is a real challenge.”

JCPS will need to be “intentional about providing a different type of instruction” for at-risk students once regular classes resume, he said.

“We can’t just walk back in in mid-August and go right back to the same thing we were doing before and expect to have kids caught up and supported,” Pollio said. “I told our principals those kids who left us on March 13 that had poverty issues, had needed supports, had trauma that they faced are going to be exacerbated during this time.”

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