COVID ‘slide’ informs Wilton’s back-to-school plans
WILTON — Cuts to curriculum content and lowered academic benchmarks are going to be part of the fallout from COVID-19, according to school officials.
In a presentation to the Board of Education on Thursday night, Charles Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said, “It’s likely when we do our assessments in the fall, a larger number of students will qualify for intervention compared to the number who have required intervention in previous years due to what we’re calling the COVID slide.”
“I’m reluctant to increase staffing or to increase group size for the purpose of intervention … so it’s likely that what we’re going to do is lower the benchmarks so the interventionists can continue to be effective,” he said.
“There are going to be a number of students who are below grade level,” Smith said.
“Interventionists will still see our neediest learners,” he said, but the rest of their time will be spent being “redeployed to design programs for [general education] teachers” aimed at restoring losses in student learning on a larger scale.
Ironically, Smith and his team will also be exploring ways to see if e-learning can be used as an effective intervention to combat the COVID slide.
Smith also said the district simply will not be able to deliver the whole curriculum, given constraints of time and working to craft lessons in relation to the new Schoology online learning program that will be the standard next year.
“No matter what learning situation we’re in next year, we’re probably not going to be able to deliver the curriculum the way we would if we were in a traditional setting,” Smith said.
“This is going to be hard next year for everybody, so we have to focus on the most important standards,” he added, with templates in development for teachers focused on several “re-entry units” that will be the first priority.
Following the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said delivery of the curriculum will focus on “priority standards” which are the foundation of grades and courses.
“We should have made clear that emphasizing priority standards does not mean we are not teaching other standards,” Kevin Smith said. “Focusing the curriculum on priority standards is a responsible and effective way to ensure that all students are acquiring essential content and are well-prepared for subsequent learning.”
Chair Deborah Low said she was “stunned” to hear they were talking about lowering the benchmarks for the students that need intervention and not delivering the curriculum that they normally would, which she described as antithetical to the very philosophy of Wilton Public Schools.
While they and others lauded the work of school staff in trying to make the best of a bad situation, the question was also broached of whether some reserve funds should be earmarked for hiring additional interventionists.
“I know we as a board set aside money just in case … things come up,” said board member Jennifer Lalor, “and I’d love to leave that as an open possibility.”
Charles Smith, however, did not appear amenable to the idea.
“I would just like to think very carefully about how we would do that effectively,” he said.
“Onboarding the interventionists takes time and effort,” he said, explaining they would require training to familiarize themselves with Wilton’s methods.
Lalor also inquired about what curriculum items were not going to be taught.
“As a parent myself I’d love to know what are some things that we, on our own, could introduce our kids to,” she said, “since we’re not going to have that opportunity to see that introduced in school right now.”
Smith said the district coordinators had already prioritized items, but said those could change contingent on what happens after students return to school.
“They’ve identified the priority standards that would be addressed,” he said, “but if we see there are major learning gaps we may need to prioritize things.”
He said the curriculum units themselves were all in the district’s Schoology system, but that the teachers will still need to create their courses based on them.
“It’s a different platform,” he said. “Their units are currently written for — for the most part — face-to-face interaction … It’s not something that we could do for teachers and I’m not sure that they would want us to do it.”
“I think right now we’re standing at the bottom of a very steep mountain and it is daunting,” Smith said of the work ahead.
“We’ve got a lot of tough decisions to make as we move forward,” Low said.
“Right now it’s a little overwhelming, at least for this board member,” she said.
This story has been edited from what was originally posted to include Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith’s comments. The headline was changed from one that was determined to be too broad.