2020: The Year of the “Distant Learner”


The 2020 calendar year has brought forth uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances that impact every aspect of life, particularly education. In March, many schools made a dramatic shift to distance learning — for some, in a matter of days.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced school buildings to close, many districts that had already been doing blended learning were more prepared to go fully remote for the remainder of the school year. Data from leading education technology provider PowerSchool shows some of the most active customers using Schoology (a learning management system that makes distance learning possible) had student participation up to 95% or more during distance learning. Those that were not already familiar with remote, distance or blended learning were not prepared to keep the learning going.

In fact, research shows:

  • A total of 67% of educators didn’t feel prepared for online instruction, according to research from Educators for Excellence.
  • Only 1 in 3 districts required teachers to deliver instruction based on research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.
  • According to research from Education Week, nearly 20% of K-12 students were considered “absent” during closures.

After several months of students learning from home, many are still waiting to see what the 2020-2021 school year will bring as districts finalize plans for returning to school. During these challenging times, it is crucial that students, educators and families remain connected. PowerSchool has outlined three ways it is helping unite teachers, parents and students to ensure the learning keeps going, whether it’s in the classroom, at home or both.

Using analytics to assess where students are academically

As a parent, you may be worried about what knowledge gaps your child has after learning from home for many months. For example, students heading into fourth grade may not be as up-to-speed on multiplication than fourth graders in a “typical” year, causing them to be behind in math and impacting learning in the new year. PowerSchool recently launched its new analytics tool, PowerSchool Unified Insights Student Learning, to help teachers and administrators easily visualize student actions within Schoology Learning to quickly identify gaps in equity and access. Using analytics tools like Unified Insights Student will help educators meet students where they are at when they reenter the school year this fall. It will also drive staff development to help ensure instructors are continuing to improve when it comes to delivering personalized learning in a blended and/or distance learning environment.

Unified Insights Student Learning was created based on PowerSchool’s discussions with school leaders and teachers across the nation regarding concerns around learning gaps and access to virtual instruction. This new tool builds on the work PowerSchool has done to help districts across the country make the sudden shift to distance learning and use data to make better, more informed decisions.

With this first-of-its-kind tool, educators will have a holistic view into data to help ensure learning continues both in person and at home.

Leveraging data to identify social and emotional barriers

Teachers can also use PowerSchool’s Performance Matters Assessment and Analytics, a data assessment and analytics tool, along with Kickboard (one of PowerSchool’s partners that specializes in behavior management) to identify where students are both academically and emotionally. This helps educators not only identify specific standards-based instructional gaps that require attention such as the “COVID Slide” from missed instructional time last spring, but also empowers educators to easily discover and address any social emotional challenges that may have arisen, which could certainly be impacting learning as students adapt to hybrid or entirely remote learning this fall.

“Schoology helps students feel like they’re at school even when they’re not. School is not just the building. It’s the people,” said William Beeler, educator at Florida’s West Elementary School.

Supporting flexible, hybrid schedules

As schools plan for online, in-person or both in the coming year, the ability to quickly pivot between schedules will be crucial. Tools like Schoology Learning supports both online-only and hybrid schedules, which keeps students more engaged and connected regardless of where they are.

“Schoology Learning is the all-encompassing umbrella for our teachers, admin, support staff, paraprofessionals, secretaries, psychologists and everyone involved in the school,” said Tara Amsterdam, instructional tech coach at Colonial ISD in Delaware.

Using tools like Schoology Learning can make communication and collaboration easy. The platform allows students to collaborate, post updates, share resources and engage in discussions outside of “scheduled” courses, which ultimately saves both students and educators valuable time. Teachers benefit from using assessment and analytics capabilities that make it easier to manage the classroom, assess learning and view student performance trends to ensure students continue learning.

“Nothing can replace being together in a classroom, but educators have shown what’s possible as schools are now prioritizing and accelerating their readiness for blended learning,” said Hardeep Gulati, CEO of PowerSchool. “We’re here to help schools move into this new way of learning this school year and beyond.”

To help parents, students and educators this fall, PowerSchool launched a new Back to School web page that features the tools schools need to operate in this new hybrid environment, bringing everything together so districts can keep the learning going in these new times.

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