ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- It's been a challenging school year for many St. Louis families struggling with virtual learning. In some local school districts teachers and administrators are voicing concerns about students that have failed to participate online.
A St. Louis Public Schools high school teacher wanted to keep their identity anonymous but told News 4 "that has been a common occurrence...I have several students who have been on my roster since the beginning of school in August who I still haven't seen."
A middle school teacher from the same district also spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying "I would say on my side of the hallway there are probably four or five students regularly not attending classes at any particular time and that's per class." The teacher also said "grading has been an issue recently. We had a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago and was basically told hey you should give these kids 50 percent even if they didn't turn the work in."
It's not just an issue in the city. In more rural districts like Wright City, a virtual option was offered, but in-person learning was not suspended due to the pandemic. The superintendent told News 4 the district identified students that were chronically absent online.
"At about the midpoint of the semester we homed in on two categories of students. Those that weren't succeeding but were engaging. And a significant number of students that we had no engagement from," Chris Berger said. As a result, the district sent letters to the parents of absent students requiring them to enroll their child in seated instruction unless they could provide a documented medical vulnerability. Those letters were sent at the end of the first semester.
"It was successful," Berger explained. "It created a ton of work for us, but it did get parents to engage."
Another issue teachers are concerned about this academic year involves grades, and what they mean. The anonymous SLPS middle school teacher told News 4 "we were encouraged heavily to try and boost all F's and D's to C's."
The high school teacher News 4 spoke with provided a grading scale, and claimed it's offered inside the St. Louis Public School's online grade book as a virtual option. The scale shows the cutoff for a B lowered to 64 percent, the cutoff for a C lowered to 40 percent, and the cutoff for a D lowered to 17 percent.
"As I was looking around I saw that, it said virtual performance grading scale. It was something I had never seen before," the teacher said. When asked if some teachers are using that scale, the teacher responded, "from what I've heard I think some are."
According to an SLPS spokesperson, "individual principals may have made adjustments to the grading scale as a result of the pandemic" but added, "the district did not change the grading scale."
The commissioner for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Dr. Margie Vandeven, told News 4, "right now we know some kids are thriving in an online environment and we know some kids are not."
Dr. Margie Vandeven answered several questions about virtual learning.
When asked if students should repeat a grade level if they are chronically absent she said, "there's a lot of question about that right now taking place. In the spring we were very clear and saying students should be held harmless to this unique unusual circumstance...but after a whole year of this that diploma needs to mean something."
"For us we have known in the past, kids who attend school typically do better," Vandeven added. In the SLPS district students are offered an in-person option, but only 26 percent of middle and high school students choose that option. 74 percent of SLPS students remain at home.
According to a district spokesperson, 75 to 82 percent of virtual students log on regularly, which means nearly 1 out of 4 do not. In the Parkway District, 37 percent of high school students remain virtual vs in person. In the Hazelwood District, all students remain 100 percent virtual.
High School students won't have the option to return in person in Hazelwood until the week of April 12.
The state of Missouri is planning to move forward with a spring assessment to gauge how students are doing academically. The assessment was canceled last year because of the pandemic. The results will not be held against school districts, but it will give administrators a clearer picture of whether students are truly prepared to move to the next level.