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Idaho Student Grades Dropped with Hybrid, Online Learning

Student GPAs saw statistically significant declines where schools had switched to hybrid or all-online learning models, especially among economically disadvantaged, English-language learning and migrant students.

(TNS) — New research confirms Idaho students suffered significant academic setbacks last year, particularly in school districts that shifted to hybrid or online learning models because of the pandemic.

Two different studies were presented Thursday to the Idaho State Board of Education. Both were conducted by Cathleen McHugh, the board’s chief research officer.

The first compared grade-point averages for ninth grade students in March of 2020, immediately before the pandemic hit Idaho, with GPAs for March of 2021.

The basic question, McHugh said, was whether there was a statistically significant change in GPA scores during that time period, and whether it was correlated with the type of instructional model a school district used.

The answer to both questions, she said, was yes.

Districts that offered in-person instruction throughout the entire study period (March 2020 through February 2021) saw no change, McHugh said.

However, in school districts that switched to a hybrid instructional model at any point during the period, GPAs declined by 0.13 points. Districts that shifted entirely online for any portion of the study period saw a 0.09 point decrease in GPAs.

While that doesn’t sound like much, McHugh said it translates into literally hundreds of students falling short of the eligibility requirements for Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship and direct college admission programs.

“If the students don’t raise their GPAs, this will impact their eligibility for the scholarship and direct admission programs,” she said.

The impact was even greater on certain student populations, McHugh said.

For example, economically disadvantaged students saw a 0.22- and 0.23-point decrease in GPA, respectively, in hybrid and online schools. English language learners saw a 0.38- and 0.41-point decline, while migrant students saw a 0.42- and 0.58-point decrease.

“These students now have to raise their GPAs over the next three years, in order to become eligible for these programs,” she said.

Nearly half of all school districts in Idaho maintained in-person instruction throughout the study period, McHugh said. However, they only accounted for 23 percent of all students.

About a third of the districts switched to a hybrid learning model at some point; they accounted for 44 percent of all students. Another 13 percent went entirely online for at least a portion of the study period, accounting for 29 percent of students. The remaining districts and students were virtual charter schools.

McHugh also did a second analysis regarding the likelihood of students receiving a D or F in certain required math and English classes that are offered in ninth through 12th grades.

After controlling for student characteristics and school district — to make sure she’s comparing apples to apples — she found a statistically higher probability that students were failing in the 2020-21 school year, compared to the 2018-19 school year.

In ninth grade English, for example, there was about a 7 percentage point increased likelihood that students received a D or F. For high school algebra and geometry, the chances were 5 percent to 6 percent higher.

State Board President Kurt Liebich said the study results confirm what the board has been talking about.

“We know there’s been unfinished learning, and it’s been more significant for our (disadvantaged) populations,” Liebich said. “From a policy standpoint, I think we’ll be dealing with this for years.”

In other business, the board:

Identified funding for all-day kindergarten classes as its top legislative priority for the 2022 legislative session.

The state currently provides funding for half-day kindergarten, but most school districts offer full-day kindergarten. They use various methods to cover the difference in costs, including supplemental levies, literacy funds and grants.

That has contributed to funding inequities around the state, which some districts unable or unwilling to offer full-day kindergarten simply because they can’t cover the cost.

The board wants lawmakers to provide state support for full-day classes. Districts would still have a choice in whether they want to offer half- or full-day kindergarten, and attendance would continue to be voluntary.

Sen. Carl Crabtree, R- Grangeville, co-sponsored legislation earlier this year to address the issue.

According to the bill’s statement of purpose, it would “offer parity statewide, so if school districts and families decide that optional full-day kindergarten is appropriate for their children, funding would not be a barrier to their choice in education.”

The estimated cost of the proposal was $42 million per year, if every school district in the state were to offer full-day classes.

Approved fiscal 2023 budget requests for the various higher education institutions. Those requests now go to the governor for review and possible inclusion in his 2023 budget recommendation to the Legislature.

The University of Idaho is requesting $2.05 million to hire five people, including a vice provost for digital learning, to develop “a robust and stable online education” effort.

The funding request includes $340,000 for marketing costs and $300,000 in one-time software and technology improvements.

Lewis-Clark State College is requesting $326,400 for an additional mental health counseling position and an education coordinator to strengthen services for adult/nontraditional learners.

The school also requested $159,700 for cybersecurity improvements, and for a full-time athletic trainer/instructor needed to meet its Title IX obligations.

Appointed Jeff Tucker as the new general manager for Idaho Public Television.

Tucker has been with IPTV for 25 years, most recently as director of content services and interim manager since former General Manager Ron Pisaneschi retired in July.

©2021 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.