News from Houston ISD
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District takes ‘compassionate’ grading approach amid outbreak
$13 MILLION estimated district investment in laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots for students and sta as of April 27 9% of all households in Houston ISD lack broadband internet access 7,500 estimated number of laptops needed by students in HISD 9,000 hotspots distributed and 6,000 laptops distributed as of April 25 SOURCES: HOUSTON ISD, U.S. CENSUS COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER Houston ISD ocials have been distributing equipment to area families to help implement its new at-home learning program. HISD said it is seeking out more partners to help close the gap by providing additional equipment. Closing thedigital divide
BY MATT DULIN
expand the digital divide, Brower said. HISD has prioritized making contact with every student to assess needs and to ensure they are in communication with teachers. “This was about making sure our families and teachers were OK and getting technology into hands that needed it,” interim Chief Academic Ocer Yolanda Rodríguez said. “WE’RE NOT HAVING ONLINE EDUCATIONAT THEMOMENTIT’SMORE LIKE CRISIS TEACHING. IT’S REALLYDIFFICULT.” SAMUEL BROWER, RESEARCHER AND PROFESSOR AT THE UH COLLEGE OF EDUCATION Rodríguez said the district had also distributed thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots. “We distributed as many as we could, and I know that many families, even if they had internet before, now they’ve lost their job or their income, they’re cutting that. They can’t pay the bill,” she said. The district said it had reached about 91% of its students by April 9, meaning sta has established two-way communication with over 186,000 students, including 92% of the district’s 17,000 special education students, about 90% of its 63,000 English-language learners, and about 84% of its 6,300 homeless students. Once connected with HISD@ Home, the district’s remote learning initiative, student experiences can vary widely depending on the school and the teacher. “You have some teachers who are very tech savvy, and so they are taking things online and holding class almost as normal,” Brower said. “But it’s very dicult for others; they are struggling to put things online, and so they’re relying more on worksheets.” Some families, meanwhile, have formed support networks to share advice, such as the HISD@Home Survival Group on Facebook. “Initially there seemed to be a lot of dierent instructions from
HOUSTON ISD With the transition to a home-based learning strategy, Houston ISD ocials have adopted a grading policy in which no student will be penalized for school work after March 12 but left decisions on specic class grading practices to the schools themselves. The grading policy distributed April 9 has three key provisions: No district grades taken after March 12 can negatively aect a student’s overall average for the course; if a student’s grade in the nal grading cycle negatively aects their overall nal grade in a course, that nal cycle grade will be omitted in the calculation of the nal grade for the course; and individual schools have discretion for class assignments and grading, but they have been asked to be understanding of the burdens and limitations that COVID-19 has placed on students and families. “This is a dicult time for our community. ... We do not want to add any undue pressure,” interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan told the board of trustees April 9. “We do as a district, though, have to provide opportunities for our students to learn through an online platform or through paper-based instruction ... and we must document those eorts.” While some parents questioned whether students would be moti- vated to do any work if there is no harm to their grades, one local education researcher said the best approach right now is “to be as compassionate as we possibly can.” “We can’t accurately and fairly measure performance right now. Sure, if this keeps going into the fall, you can prepare for that and put some systems in place, but right now we can’t get a good gauge,” said Samuel Brower, a researcher and pro- fessor at the UH College of Education who helps lead teacher certication training. “We’re not having online education at the moment—it’s more like crisis teaching. It’s really dicult.” Another issue is the transition to online learning has the potential to
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schools, as well as individual teach- ers,” said Meg McDonald, who formed the group and cares for her nephew in Lamar High School. “That appears to have died down, as HISD determined best practices for consistency and fairness. These beginning days and weeks are a time of learning and adjustment for HISD, administrators, teachers, parents and students.” The district has also established a hotline, 713-556-4636, for questions about the at-home learning process.
BELLAIRE MEYERLAND WEST UNIVERSITY EDITION • MAY 2020
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