Austin ISD aims to strategically ‘level’ classrooms to ease burden on teachers

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Administrative officials with the Austin Independent School District say they will try to strategically level out classrooms across the district to ease the burden on teachers who are instructing both virtual and in-person students simultaneously.

In the past, when a kid gets “leveled,” or placed into a different class than where they began the year, it’s to help even out the number of students in the classrooms.

In 2020, AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said it may be done to help pair virtual students to virtual teachers and in-person students with in-person teachers.

“We will have to work on ensuring that when we can, as much as possible, create opportunities for teachers to have some of this huge burden on them lessened. And some of that can be done when we start leveling,” Elizalde said.

But in a pandemic, the logistics of leveling are not that easy.

There are teachers already staying home due to approved accommodations, some schools will have more in-person learners than others and the student population is constantly shifting as parents feel more comfortable to send their kids to campus.

For example, on Monday, Oct. 5, Elizalde said approximately 6,000 elementary-aged students reported to AISD campuses. By Thursday, Oct. 8, that number increased to around 6,500.

When more students continue to show up, it makes social distancing difficult. Dr. Elizalde said safety has to be the paramount factor to guide administrative decision making.

“If you are leveling too early, and we don’t have enough information on the students coming in, we will have to relevel again,” Elizalde said.

Leveling also has proven social and emotional effects on students.

Joel Bergh, a dad of two students in AISD and faculty member at Texas State University, said leveling can be a traumatic experience for students. A bond is often built between students, teachers and their fellow classmates — suddenly losing it can feel dramatic and disruptive.

“It’s a short-term trauma that the kids feel,” Bergh said. “Every classroom, every teacher has their own rhythm.”

However, Bergh said kids are easily adaptable, and it won’t take long for them to adjust. Elizalde said any leveling that occurs this year will come with additional time to get to know teachers and classmates. New bonds will be formed with ice breakers and get-to-know-you games.

Bergh said he’d be happy to have his children leveled to a different classroom if it ensures a lighter load for an overworked teacher.

“As long as moving my students from one classroom to another is making it safer for the teachers that are having to be involved, I’m for that,” Bergh said.

Elizalde said principals now have permission to begin leveling as they see fit. Due to low enrollment, she says leveling will not happen at the campus level, meaning teachers and students will not have to shift schools.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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