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Student optimism falling, but remain connected to school

GLOVERSVILLE — Gloversville Enlarged School District officials say student optimism has fallen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, yet kids have remained connected to schools.

Assistant Superintendent James Wager briefed the Board of Education on Jan. 11 on the Holistic Student Assessment from the Partnership in Education and Resilience Institute that the district is working to implement.

The assessment geared towards students in grade four and up is comprised of an online questionnaire that students are typically asked to fill out twice a year. Responses to individual questions are kept confidential with the data collected to provide school staff an overview of the social-emotional standing of students.

“It’s a strengths-based assessment that looks at particular characteristics amongst the kids,” said Wager.

The assessment focuses on three main categories comprised of resiliencies, relationships and learning and school engagement. Students are asked to rate their feelings on a scale that demonstrate their action orientation, emotion control, assertiveness, perseverance, trust, empathy, reflection, optimism, learning interest, critical thinking, academic motivation, school bonding and relationships with peers and adults both inside and outside of school.

“It is a global survey so when questions come across about relationships with adults, that’s not just school centered, but it’s the adults in that child’s life. It gives us a broader picture of the strengths and challenges that some of our students may face,” said Wager.

Aggregate data shows how students’ responses compare to the average with answers above or below the average by a certain threshold considered strengths or weaknesses. Data can be viewed by individual, age, classroom, grade, school or districtwide to identify the best teaching programs and strategies to aid students.

“It highlights what are areas where students have real strengths that we can tap into to help them be successful in areas where they might struggle,” said Wager.

District psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and some building administrators received their first training on the assessment from members of the PEAR Institute earlier this month.

Staff reviewed the results of assessments administered to fourth and fifth grade students before the holiday recess in December and found that optimism among these students was “generally low.”

Those findings were in keeping with data collected nationally since the coronavirus pandemic began, broadly causing schools to shut down for in-person learning through the spring before reopening in the fall under hybrid models rotating between in-person and remote learning to reduce on campus density to allow for social distancing in classrooms.

“The PEAR Institute’s national results during COVID have shown that student optimism has gone down over previous years, which tends to make sense all things considered,” said Wager.

Yet efforts to keep kids engaged in school despite the physical distance have seemingly been effective.

“As their optimism goes down, connectivity to school has remained strong for a lot of kids and their relationships with peers and adults seems pretty solid,” said Wager.

The district has reported anecdotally throughout the current school year that attendance among elementary students under the hybrid model has largely kept pace with previous years, while attendance and participation at the secondary level has fallen, especially among high school students.

Superintendent David Halloran on Monday suggested that some high school students have convinced parents that they are able to log into all of their classes remotely each day to fulfill attendance requirements, which is not the case for those enrolled in the district’s hybrid model. Unless instructed otherwise, students must report in-person or remotely each day based on their team grouping.

Beyond the issue of their attendance, Halloran said that many of these students are struggling academically and not engaging with coursework. The superintendent has regularly encouraged students to take responsibility for their education, while trying to improve instruction and accountability under the hybrid model by implementing synchronous learning at the secondary level. Students in middle and high school now connect with their physical classrooms virtually at the regularly scheduled time on scheduled remote learning days.

Whether the Holistic Student Assessment will help the district address these issues remains to be seen as full implementation is still in the early stages, but Wager said district staff who received assessment training are optimistic that the tool will prove useful in aiding student success.

“It is a tool that we’re just getting to know, and we hope it will develop into something that will help us better serve our students going forward,” said Wager.

“Obviously, this year more than any year I think tracking and being mindful of students’ social and emotional well-being is warranted but we hope that this platform will serve us well to know our students better not just through this pandemic, but years ahead as well,” said Halloran.

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