ralph katieb d6hr6rcwhbo unsplashCOVID-19 has challenged all of us to think differently about life and learning.  School systems across our nation were forced to quickly implement safety measures to support in-person learning while launching remote learning options.  The 3 W’s, wash your hands, wear your mask, and watch your distance were in the forefront and seemed to replace the 3 Rs for at least a period of time and transition.

While the narrative has been that we lost two years of schooling and remote learning was a complete failure, our internal data systems in the Meriden Public Schools show that this was not the case.  While it was certainly challenging for the younger grades, it provided optimism, opportunities, and a level of success for students grades 7 to 12.  

When reviewing the 2020-2021 Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) data relative to the percent of students at or above SBA Level 3 in ELA and math, compared to our pre-COVID five-year averages, we saw that our grade 7 and 8 remote learners outperformed their pre-COVID five-year averages in grade 7 and 8 ELA and grade 7 math.  The remote-learning grade 7 cohort even outperformed the grade 7 in-person cohort.

We also analyzed the percent of students at PSAT Benchmark for grade 8 and grade 9 for fall 2021 in both Evidence Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and math.  As a combined cohort of in-person and remote learners, our students in grades 8 and 9 outperformed the district’s pre-COVID three-year average in math grade 8 and 9 and EBRW in grade 9.

No one can deny the COVID challenges that consistently confronted our schools.  Now, no one will ever question the need for devices, access, single sign-on solutions, and high-quality digital content.  Let us not lose the opportunity to learn from the lessons that remote learning provided us during the pandemic.  

Remote learning was not the only successful innovation in our district during these ever-changing times. Our parent-teacher conferences converted to a virtual format, and those meetings had the best attendance in district history.  Why would we ever force parents to miss work time, drive to our schools, search for parking and sign in at the main office for a ten-minute update on their child’s progress?  We also learned that our teachers could participate in professional learning experiences remotely from the comfort of their homes.  In addition, we realized the efficiencies from holding virtual teacher, school, and administrator meetings.  The pandemic and our remote learning efforts also showed us the importance of providing all students with social-emotional support.  It was amazing to see the creative approaches and innovative techniques that our support staff used to connect with and support all of our students, even those who were learning remotely at home.

More importantly, let us not universally accept the narrative that we lost two years of schooling, and remote learning was a complete failure.  Simply, that is just not the case.  Our dynamic teachers and staff, exceptional students, and supportive families proved that learning happens anywhere and anytime.

-Mark D. Benigni, Ed.D., Superintendent, Meriden Public Schools, Meriden, CT