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San Diego Unified Reports Lower Grades, Higher Absenteeism During Pandemic Year

 June 7, 2021 at 11:59 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 A year of online classes has taken a toll on many San Diego unified students. New data shows, grades went down and absenteeism was up with about 14% of unified students, skipping a significant number of online classes. The impact was even greater among black and Latino students and students with disabilities. But San Diego unified has hoped that getting back to full time in-person classes next fall, and introducing new plans to address falling grades and increase racial equity will help students recover from the pandemic downturn. I spoke with Richard Berrera president of the San Diego unified school board about those plans. Here's that interview. It was expected that the pandemic online classes would result in some learning loss and negative outcomes for students. But what did the board learn about the data behind that impact? Speaker 2: 00:51 Yeah, so Jade, there were really two key stories in the, in the data that we reviewed on Tuesday night. One was that pre pandemic we had been seen over the couple of years, um, you know, leading up to the pandemic really significant progress in many of the areas that we have focused on. So that includes reducing chronic absenteeism, improving attendance, uh, and improving grades. So consistently across the board. And most of those data points we saw in the two years leading up to the pandemic, really significant improvement, which gives us confidence that the strategies that we had been able to, uh, to use pre pandemic were effective and, you know, indicates that those are the strategies that we should really be focusing on coming out of the pandemic. But then of course the other story was the impact of the pandemic on most of those areas. So in most of those areas, uh, over this last year, we saw our reversal of the gains that we had seen prior to the pandemic. And like you say, that was anticipated, but it is sobering that we are in a situation now that we know we've got a lot of work to do to help our students recover both academically, but also to help, uh, overcome some of the social and emotional stress, the mental health issues that we know our students experienced, uh, during this year, Speaker 1: 02:26 The data highlighted some issues of equity, uh, students who were most impacted were black and Latino. Speaker 2: 02:32 Talk to me about, you know, African-American and Latino students historically have not achieved at the same level with grades and academic outcomes as white students. And then, uh, black and Latino students also have tended to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism. So the strategies that we had been employing that were showing positive impact in the years leading up to COVID really depends on that personal relationship between a classroom teacher, a counselor, and a student. And by getting to know our students, connecting with them, understanding what may be happening in their home situations, that's allowed us to put supports in place, you know, to help those students overcome barriers and being positioned to do well. The pandemic very much hurt that relationship, you know, between a teacher and a counselor and students, it was this much harder to establish that strong, positive connection, uh, when students were not, you know, in-person when students were online, sometimes connecting sometimes not just very, very difficult for teachers and counselors to really understand what was happening with those students. Speaker 2: 03:55 So building those personal connections between teachers, counselors and students is key to overcoming these historical inequities that we've seen with black and Latino students. All of these are strategies that we're very hopeful that as students start to come back to school, uh, we're going to be able to, uh, you know, to help students overcome what they dealt with over this last year. But we also know that it's not simply that students being back in class will be enough. We will have to put, and we are planning to put extra support into helping our students get back on track. And that was the major focus of our meeting Tuesday night. Why does our plan to help students recover to, you know, allow us to reconnect with those students and then to accelerate their learning over the next three years, Speaker 1: 04:47 Personal relationships, as you mentioned are important. So are, so is the curriculum, um, have you all identified any areas and opportunities where there's room for improvement? Speaker 2: 04:58 So we are very aggressively moving forward with an ethnic studies for all curriculum. It allows us to have really honest conversations with our students about, you know, why there is systemic racism in our society. Why students have experienced barriers because of race, because of ethnicity, because of gender sexual orientation, all of those issues absolutely have impact and create barriers for students. And they are historical in nature and they are systemic. And what we find in the ethnic studies approach is that as students are able to understand both their own experiences and the systems that have led, you know, to inequity, it actually is very empowering for students. It's engaging and it puts students in a position that they say, okay, this isn't just something that's wrong with me. This is something that's really wrong with society. And we're going to confront that and we're actually going to do our part to make it better. Speaker 2: 06:05 So, you know, we instituted a couple of years ago, a requirement that in order to graduate high school, uh, every student needs to take at least one ethnic studies course. And that graduation requirement is now in place for this year's freshmen class. But it's not just about one course. It's also about training teachers, uh, in our entire curriculum to be able to have an ethnic studies frame. So in the way that we teach math in the way that we teach science, certainly in the way that we teach literature arts music, can we bring this frame into the conversation so that what students are learning is relevant and grounded in their own real experience? So the expansion of ethnic studies is a, is a very much a priority for us. Moving forward. As you mentioned, Speaker 1: 06:57 The district is going to roll out some new programs to help students recover. How is the district going to help students who have suffered learning loss? Speaker 2: 07:05 So we're starting with a rapid, uh, dramatically expanded summer program. So starting on June 21st, we're going to be offering summer school to all of our students at all of our grades. And it's about academic support, but also community enrichment. So we're partnering with the San Diego foundation and a number of community-based organizations to offer enrichment programs to students this summer. We're calling it a summer of learning and joy. So the dramatically expanded summer school program is where we begin that process towards recovery. And then as we get into the next school year, we want to extend the school day with after-school tutoring available to more students. Uh, we want to expand our mental health support in terms of counselors and other mental health professionals. And we want to very much focus on what has been proven to be very successful professional development of teachers so that when we have coaches that can work side by side with teachers, uh, in the classroom with students that really shows a dramatic improvements in literacy and math, uh, in a variety of subjects and in social and emotional learning. So an expansion of that student centered professional development, uh, will be a core strategy as we move forward into the fall. I've been Speaker 1: 08:29 Speaking to Richard Berrera president of the San Diego unified school board. Richard, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much, Jade.

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Black and Latinx students as well as English learners and students with disabilities were more likely to be chronically absent or receive a failing grade during the 2020-21 school year.
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