As an Executive Director of Curriculum for Pasadena Independent School District in the greater Houston area, I have wrestled with two seemingly opposite forces during the pandemic. First, I recognize the many difficulties that exist in trying to intervene for students who are experiencing profound change in how they are accustomed to learning. These difficulties are real and poignant. Many have struggled to adjust to these new realities and need significant support.
Second, I believe that accepting any less than high levels of student achievement for all isn’t an option. Yes, students are struggling to adjust, but failure isn’t really a tenable choice. The stakes are simply too high for students who are unsuccessful in the K-12 system.
To ensure all students are successful now and, in the future, Pasadena ISD has utilized the following five strategies to combat learning loss and ensure high levels of success for all students:
Equity remains a paramount issue in the world of education. In Pasadena, our first step in slowing down students’ academic slide has been to ensure that all learners have access to a portable device at home. While some of our students already had access to a family computer, the vast majority of our students did not. Additionally, more than 3000 of our student families have received a district provided Mobile WIFI device to connect to the Internet from home. In our district, where the majority of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, we recognize that leveling the playing field by supplying the devices and connectivity was an important first step in combating learning loss.
For the last 6 years, Pasadena ISD has utilized a model to provide a research-based approach to learning for students that is based on goal-setting, making connections, and fostering accountability for learning outcomes. Over 75% of our students in the 5th-8th grades participate in this learning model. While the resource wasn’t necessarily built to be delivered as an online-only learning platform, we have found that our students who use the platform have been able to adapt more effectively to the ever-changing world of learning in the pandemic. The platform emphasizes 16 habits of success, such as being self-aware, showing academic tenacity, and having a growth mindset, which has served our students well in these difficult times.
With the logistical concerns of access and connectivity solved, we have now recommitted our efforts to several key instructional practices that lead to high levels of student engagement. Our work with problem based learning and other STEM initiatives has proven to be very impactful in ensuring high levels of learning for all students.
Problem-Based learning and other STEM initiatives give our students opportunities to own their learning, exercise their natural creativity, and engage in quality content. Through student surveys and other resources, we have found that students crave the connection to the real-world that problem-based learning provides. Our work with Discovery Education for example has given us understanding regarding how to utilize problem/inquiry-based learning as a platform to drive engagement. They have provided digital content and quality professional development and training to our teachers and educational leaders which in turn has helped us refine our thinking around student engagement and its absolute necessity in online learning.
In Pasadena ISD, we aim for quality Tier 1 instruction daily. That is the goal regardless of whether the learning takes place in an online or in the face-to-face setting. Regardless of that goal, we recognize that some students will still need additional time and support, in addition to that quality Tier 1 instruction. One key tool that we use to identify students who need additional support are the NWEA MAP assessments. These nationally normed assessments, taken at the beginning, middle and end of the school year, provide us with invaluable information regarding student learning gaps and help us tailor our remediation efforts to the individual student. Additionally, these targeted assessments provide students actionable data they can use to measure and track their own progress and growth.
Our last area of emphasis can best be described as the vehicle in which our entire educational philosophy is delivered. Education can often feel like a lonely profession. Certainly, in a district of our size, we recognize the need to work in collaborative teams instead of individual silos. No one teacher can or should be expected to solve every problem that students encounter. We value the team approach and consistently search for the synergy that exists on powerful collaborative teams. We are proud to say that Pasadena ISD was recently named as a PLC Model School District and we attribute our continued success during this disruptive pandemic to our culture of collaboration.
This culture emphasizes social-emotional well-being as vital to the learning process. We have found that teachers who work in collaborative teams have a greater ability to reach struggling students. These struggling students understand that they have multiple adults who are looking out for them and who care deeply for their well-being. Using collaborative teams, adults and students alike are able to make key connections that foster growth and learning.
While the entire team at Pasadena ISD is proud of our work to accelerate student achievement and mitigate the learning loss incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, we realize our approach is but one out of many possible approaches. While the United States seems to be entering the beginning of the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators everywhere must act now to address the issue of learning loss. Through the American Recovery Act, new funding is available to help educators create even more deeply engaging and inspiring learning environments. Let’s seize the opportunity before us to help our students not only now, but in the future.
Daniel Hoppie currently serves as the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Texas’s Pasadena ISD. During his almost 20-year tenure in the district, Hoppie has held numerous positions including middle school ELL/Bilingual teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal and principal. To read more about the Pasadena ISD Department of Curriculum and Instruction’s Theory of Action, visit this link.