Spokane Schools work to address waning attendance rates with remote learning

SPOKANE, Wash. — Students in Spokane Public Schools are inching toward the end of the semester. Most students are still learning virtually and continue to face hurdles.

In her 13 years of teaching, 6th grade teacher Corina Fletcher says this year has been one of the most challenging.

“I’m noticing that we get through about half of what I can normally do in person,” she told 4 News Now about teaching lessons.

What’s still odd is not having students in front of her physically while she teaches.

While students aren’t showing up in-person – at least not yet – she has to take attendance online in their first meeting of the day.

“Attendance has been an interesting problem for us with virtual learning,” she said.

Not everyone can log on when teachers take attendance in the first meeting in the morning. The school district tracks attendance, amount of engagement online and other metrics weekly, releasing them on the website. The report for the first week of November says only 11 of 34 elementary schools are meeting the “cumulative satisfactory” attendance level, which is 90 percent or greater.

RELATED: Spokane Schools report: Most elementary schools report less than 90% attendance in remote learning

The district says it knows and understand that not all kids can log on every day, all day.

“If a student can’t make that synchronous virtual time with their teacher, then we also want to make sure we honor they’re accessing other engagement opportunities,” said Scott Kerwien, the director of college and career readiness as well as the director of technology information for SPS.

To be clear – it’s not that students aren’t attending school. Kerwien says they are. But with remote learning, other issues come up like internet connectivity or students having to take care of siblings. If students aren’t logging on at that certain time for attendance, the district is still making sure they’re engaged and learning throughout the day and making other meetings with their teachers.

“We have workbooks that our kids are still using, so what they’ll do is they’ll actually do the work in their book and they’ll take a picture of their work,” Fletcher explains how they’re making sure kids are doing school work.

Engagement online is actually higher in elementary schools than attendance. In the metrics the district has on its website for the first week of November, 21 of 34 elementary schools are meeting that threshold of 90 percent or greater.

If teachers notice students aren’t showing up for class online continuously, there’s a system in place for schools to check on the students.

Fletcher says she sometimes invites individual students to join class if they don’t log on. If that doesn’t work, she’ll send a note to the principal and support staff. The counselor also gets notified and they will make calls home to try and reach the student and have them log on.

If a problem continues, Fletcher says they’ll document that. If it comes to it, administration will visit a student’s home.

“We’ve had our principal and our counselor out making house visits periodically just to check up on our kids, just to make sure that there’s no tech issues we can solve and that they’re with us and we care about them,” Fletcher said.

She hopes she can see her kids in-person sometime this year. As of right now, the district is still phasing in its early learners. The district plans on phasing in second graders later this month.

“We are doing everything we can to move these kids forward and to help them grow and learn just like we always do. Even though the platform looks different, the love still remains,” Fletcher said.

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