About 20% of Tulsa Public Schools students did not connect to distance learning during the first week of the 2020-21 school year, though that number improved significantly a few weeks later.
District administrators say the district has been working urgently to locate "disconnected" students so far this year, meaning those whom TPS hasn't seen or heard from since distance learning began on Aug. 31.
Their tactics included visiting local shelters and community centers, utilizing emergency contacts, talking with neighbors, working with apartment leasing managers and maintaining satellite office hours in some north Tulsa communities. These efforts resulted in the number of disconnected students dropping from 20% to 5% by the end of the third week, Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon said.
"That's significant progress — a 15 percentage point decrease that our schools were able to achieve by doing some tactical things like this," Shannon said.
Some schools reportedly found families who were having issues with basic technology usage and reconnected the students by helping them operate their district-issued Chromebooks and log on to Canvas, an online management system used to receive instruction and complete assignments.
Additionally, many schools are hosting regular technology assistance days for families to get in-person help with distance learning tools.
By the end of the first week of school, 73% of TPS students had logged on to learning platforms and 50% had completed an activity. Those numbers improved to 92% and 87%, respectively, by the end of the third week.
Attendance at TPS, which is spending at least the first nine weeks of the school year in distance learning, currently is tied to completion of assignments. Elementary students must complete at least one assignment per half day of school to be counted as present. Secondary students need to complete at least one assignment per course each day.
Sean Berkstresser, director of data strategy at TPS, said intensive efforts by school teams led to the significant increase in the number of students completing activities since week No. 1.
Completion of instructional activities has been relatively consistent across grade levels, hovering around 87% to 91% between first and 11th grades. For prekindergarten and kindergarten, that number dropped to 81% and 83%, respectively. Twelfth grade also was at 83%.
Most students are completing instructional activities, Berkstresser said, but small gaps between student subgroups exist. For example, 93% of Asian students are completing activities, while that number drops to 86% for African American students and 79% for Pacific Islanders.
Additionally, 87% of economically disadvantaged students are completing assignments, compared to 91% of those who are not economically disadvantaged.
English learner students are completing instructional activities at the same rates as other students, but students with disabilities — at 82% — have been slightly less likely to complete activities.
TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist will submit a recommendation on whether to remain in district learning or return to in-person instruction for the second nine weeks of the school year during a school board meeting on Oct. 5, with the board voting on the plan in mid-October.
The TPS Parents For Choice Facebook group, which consists of more than 500 members who are pushing for the district to return to in-person learning, is planning a rally of parents and students in front of the Board of Education building the evening of next week's board meeting.
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