HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Parents in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District must decide by Friday whether they want to switch from virtual or in-person instruction for the second nine weeks of school.
One factor for many parents is how their kids are doing in virtual learning so far.
When progress reports came out for the first three weeks of the school year, Hays CISD reported a 30% increase in failing grades for secondary students compared to the same time last year.
The district says it has worked to narrow that gap, which is now at 12.48%, but still needs to do more.
“My daughter is an A or B student, so for her to know that she’s failing four or five courses is just like—it’s overwhelming for her,” said Jennifer Sandoval about her seventh grader.
She’s opted for virtual learning for all five of her kids.
“We really wanted to keep them home until January to get through like flu season and the cooler weather,” said Sandoval, who is at high-risk for COVID-19, along with two other family members.
But she says everyday, she and her husband discuss the possibility of sending their students back to campus.
To help, Hays CISD is allowing students to make up missing homework for full credit through the end of the grading period. They’ve also helped educate more students and teachers on how to navigate the new online learning platform, Schoology.
But the number of failing grades is still about 12.5% higher than last year.
“We cleaned up some of the policies and the processes and implemented training the last couple of weeks,” said Hays CISD spokesperson Tim Savoy. “Now, we’re getting into the deeper dive of how do we improve instruction?”
Savoy says one solution they’re considering is to separate virtual and in-person students.
“If you were failing in, say, English, on a virtual platform, maybe we put you on a dedicated virtual only teacher and make it really focus on just the virtual students,” he explained.
Another idea could help teachers manage workload by having one fully virtual day for all kids.
“Teachers might have a lesson in advance the kids can work on that would free them up for a day a month to do some training and some prep work and really some professional development on best practices on doing virtual teaching,” Savoy said.
He says these ideas are still in the works and need to be discussed by campus leaders, teachers and parents. Savoy also says counselors are calling individual students who are struggling to pinpoint all possible causes for failing grades.
Sandoval welcomes the district’s possible solutions.
“I think it would be helpful to get a little bit more support than what they’re getting,” she said.
The school district reports 10% of high schoolers are failing for the first grading period compared to 8.8% in 2019.
That is a smaller gap than when initial grades came out about two weeks ago, when the school district reported an 18% increase in failing grades compared to 2019.
“All teachers have an Advisory period each week. Teachers have contacted the parents of each student in their Advisory that is not passing a class,” spokesperson Christina Courson wrote in an email to KXAN.
She said counselors and administration have also contacted parents to create academic support plans for students most at risk.
“Teams of teachers with higher rates of students not passing have developed intervention and reteach plans,” Courson said.
Courson added many failing students who are also virtual learners have decided to return to in-person learning immediately.
The gap is much wider for middle schoolers. According to the district, the failure percentage for the first grading period is 24.2%. In 2019, that was just 1.7%.
Courson said counselors will start contacting students who are struggling the most back to campus for on-campus instruction. She also says the middle school principal is set to meet with an advisory group of teachers to develop a phase-in plan for struggling learners.