District 158 teachers estimate students are at 80% of normal progress

BY JIM MASTERS

LANSING, Ill. (April 14, 2021) — For parents wondering how far behind students may have gotten in their education since remote learning became the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lansing School District 158 Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling has an answer.

The answer comes not by the way of any formal testing of students, but through a general survey of teachers.

80% of normal progress

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“We asked all of our teachers for feedback, and in their professional opinion they estimate that our kids are currently at about 80% of where they normally would be for a regular school year,” Schilling said. “And when they say 80%, they mean they’ve covered all of the same material but maybe not quite as in depth. Or, there may be a month or so behind where they normally would be in the curriculum.”

Schilling explained that District 158 has experienced some learning loss during Spring 2020 when schools suddenly and unexpectedly closed and teaching shifted to a fully remote environment. As such, the impact of COVID-19 left educators everywhere scrambling to adapt and put new learning plans in place.

“There was some learning loss we had to capture from last spring in addition to trying to get the kids moving in their curriculum this year — all while doing it remotely,” he said. “So, we acknowledge that we are not fully where we would normally be, but I don’t think we’re that far behind either.”

District 158
In-person students learn in a classroom at Reavis Elementary School in March. Teachers across the district estimate students are at 80% of normal progress after a year of remote learning. (Photo provided)

Parent concerns

District 158 parent Luke Szulczewski expressed concern that his three children were falling far behind, believing that remote learning replacing in-person classroom instruction hasn’t been sufficient to fill the gaps. He favors more formal testing to better evaluate student progress and addressing those gaps in the short term.

“My son [at Memorial Junior High] is thankfully doing well, but he’s kind of being held back,” Szulczewski said. “I know that there are a lot of kids still struggling.”

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Schilling agreed that a number of students have been struggling during remote learning, but that the opposite is also true. Some students, who normally struggled during in-person learning, have done better in a virtual setting. District 158 is now on a hybrid learning schedule, as COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

Struggling students, excelling students

“You have some kids who normally would not participate as much in class and were not as engaged, didn’t acclimate to the material,” he said. “We also have some kids that are really coming out of their shell because they’re good with technology or they really like the remote means by which they’re learning.”

He noted a fifth-grader who struggled under normal circumstances in the classroom but has really excelled in remote learning. So proud of her progress, the District 158 School Board asked the student to lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance at a recent meeting.

The lessons learned by educators during remote learning will carry over in District 158 as best practices going forward. In effect, says Schilling, the district “has learned how to do virtual teaching.” And it may not be going away entirely when the new school year begins in the fall.

“Whereas before we maybe had a child who was medically homebound and we would send a staff member to their house,” he said. “Now we can engage that student remotely.”

Schilling acknowledges some parents may not be satisfied how District 158 has handled remote learning, or its current hybrid in-person/remote model. But he noted a survey of parents in which 625 families responded (just under 40% of all households in the district), and 80% of families said that District 158 has been “very successful” or “mostly successful” with remote learning.

District 158
Elementary students at Oak Glen School in March after District 158 moved to a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. (Photo provided)

Double summer school at District 158

To make up any learning gaps, District 158 is planning to run double summer school sessions, one session in June and another in July, for both elementary and junior high students. Schilling hopes school will return to normal in the fall, but that won’t be a reality until Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker lifts all restrictions on in-person instruction.

He praised the hard work of students and their families during the pandemic, but also that of teachers, administrators and support staff.

“Our food service has served more than 300,000 meals to our families in Lansing,” he said. “We’ve gotten numerous donations from the Village of Lansing and local churches.”

District 158 incorporates Memorial Junior High School, 2721 Ridge Road; Calvin Coolidge Elementary School, 17845 Henry Street; Oak Glen Elementary School, 2101 182nd Street; Reavis Elementary School, 17121 Roy Street; and Lester Crawl Primary School, 18300 Greenbay Avenue. District offices are also located at 18300 Greenbay Avenue.

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