VIDEO PRESENTATION: Above, watch an overview of the Granite State News Collaborative’s Remote Learning series from NH PBS.

Below is a summary of the eight-part series which will run Aug. 9-16 here on Manchester Ink Link and our fellow Granite State News Collaborative partner sites. A link to each story will be added daily.

Aug. 9 – Story 1Remote Learning Progress Report: Schools Contend With Myriad Challenges of Remote Instruction: As challenging as remote learning was last spring, many districts are including it in the plans they’re announcing now — whether full-time out of concern that they won’t be able to afford the precautions required to open safely, as part of a hybrid model to help accommodate social distancing recommendations or as a back-up plan in the event that a spike in the virus prompts another round of stay-at-home orders. There is broad consensus among superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and professionals that everyone did their best with remote learning last spring. But to the extent that it’s utilized in the 2020-21 school year, a crucial question emerges: Is last spring’s best good enough for the future

Aug. 10 – Story 2: Broadband proves to be an issue as schools across the state switch to remote learning: The quick pivot to remote learning, a system that necessarily relies on access to broadband and technology, did not happen in a vacuum. Before COVID hit, areas of the state were already hard-pressed to have reliable and consistent access to broadband and not every family had access to devices like cell phones, laptops or tablets. The switch to remote learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated these issues. For this series, we examined school districts that illustrate a range of connectivity and access to technology, utilizing an index called the DIgital Distress Indicator created by researchers at Purdue University to quantify the relative “digital readiness” of communities across the country. Digital readiness refers to a community’s capacity for leveraging the internet to improve their quality of life. 

Aug. 11 – Story 3: Changes in attendance policies obscure challenges faced by schools while tracking students’ learning time: In preparation for families’ and educators’ return to school in August, the Granite State News Collaborative examined how attendance policies played out across the state last spring. To do that, we selected four districts — Sunapee, Bedford, Franklin, and Manchester — that represented extremes in terms of their size and recent attendance rates. For each, we examined how their attendance policies were defined and implemented.  Our investigation showed that Sunapee’s experience echoed a trend across all four districts. Even though digital technology was critical in allowing many districts to keep in touch with their students, for some of the state’s most disadvantaged students even these expensive tools were insufficient. In each district, guidance counselors and social workers played a key role in maintaining lines of communication between teachers and their students, raising questions about the role that these staff members will play in the upcoming school year.

Aug. 12 – Story 4: From large class sizes to cheating, educators look to improve remote learning instruction: While the coronavirus pandemic forced some teachers to learn how to teach on an entirely new technology platform it also allowed some to get creative with their lesson plans. Establishing new routines and creating new learning opportunities may have been more manageable for teachers with fewer students to attend to. Administrators, teachers and parents identified clear trends in both the challenges they experienced and solutions they found, especially in the benefits of small-group instruction, advantages of technology and a new twist on the perennial quest to prevent cheating.

Aug. 13 – Story 5: Districts Had Trouble Tracking Student Progress Remotely: Monitoring student progress through formal and informal assessments helps educators determine how they’re doing at a macro- and micro-level. One test score or assessment can help a teacher understand how an individual student has achieved — or missed out on — a particular skill. Standardized tests allow for a wide-scale glimpse of how a district is doing in terms of student achievement.

The specifics of monitoring student progress varied widely across the state, since each school and district was able to set its own standards for assessing students during remote learning. Looking forward, educators who spoke with The Granite State News Collaborative agree that assessing students is going to be important so that schools can address any gaps in learning that arose during remote instruction. While pass/fail instruction or evaluating just the core competencies might work for a short time, it’s important that teachers, parents and students have a more accurate evaluation of their progress and achievement, educators said.

Aug. 14 – Story 6: Special Needs Students, Parents, Struggled During Remote Learning: Many New Hampshire students and families struggled with the transition to remote learning, but for students with special needs the challenges were especially large. About 17.7% of New Hampshire students have special needs, according to 2019-20 estimates used to determine state aid to localities for the cost of providing an adequate education. That metric covers everything from learning disabilities to autism spectrum disorder, socio-emotional challenges to physical disabilities. Many of these students and their parents faltered with remote learning and some supports — including physical therapy and occupational therapy — couldn’t be delivered at all during distance learning, according to educators who spoke with the Collaborative.

Aug. 15 – Story 7: Access to Technology, Family Communication, Make Remote Learning Difficult for English-Language Learners: English language learners (ELL) — children whose first language isn’t English or whose families primarily speak another language — make up just over 3 percent of the students in the state, according to 2019-20 estimates used to determine state aid to localities for the cost of providing an adequate education. However, that varies widely from district to district: Manchester has the highest population of ELL students, while some towns have no ELL population. ELL students, sometimes called ESL or ESOL students, attend mainstream classes and complete assignments but also get additional support from ELL teachers. During remote learning access to and understanding of technology was a major barrier to education for ELL students and their families. In some cases technology makes it easier to overcome a language barrier — many ELL instructors use services like WhatsApp, Talking Points, and Gmail to translate text and email notices to parents, for example. However, ELL families are often in lower socio-economic positions, with limited access to devices and the internet. That can make remote learning especially difficult for ELL students.

Aug. 16 – Story 8: Schools focus on student’s mental health during remote learning: This type of attention to students’ social and emotional wellbeing became vital for students of all ages and abilities last spring after Gov. Chris Sununu ordered all public school buildings to close in mid-March to protect communities from the coronavirus pandemic. Reporting for the Granite State News Collaborative’s “Remote Learning Progress Report” shows that, as this need surfaced, some educators and school administrators got very creative in response — and got to know a lot more about their students’ families in the process.