Distance learning comes with a multitude of challenges, as educators know all too well. In the new school year, teachers have been focused on building relationships with students, designing and engaging in rich academic experiences, and providing differentiated support to students – in addition to getting familiar with new digital tools and processes as rapidly as possible.
Adding to the challenges has been state-mandated tracking of students’ daily participation and weekly engagement, now required under Senate Bill 98. While districts can use various methods for reporting this information, some decided to adopt a template developed by the California Department of Education (CDE). Members have been vocal about the CDE template, saying it is hard to use and significantly increases their workload.
“It is a nightmare,” posted Dawn Belli-Herrera in the Facebook group “CTA Teaching, Learning & Life During COVID-19,” of the CDE form.
“Instead of helping us out we are slapped with paperwork and no planning time,” posted Annette Perez.
Thomas Joseph Henry wrote that it is “absolutely ridiculous to have this now thrown onto our already filled plates.”
The template is optional, yet there is much confusion as to other options because districts are claiming it is mandatory and some are going further in attempting to add evaluative measures.
“The cumbersome CDE form is not mandated and we have talked to the CDE about its difficulty.” – CTA President E. Toby Boyd
CTA raises issue with the state
CTA knows the issue is a major member concern and raised it with the CDE. “We certainly agree with the complexity of the sample attendance tracking form produced by the CDE and so sorry it is causing you extra headaches,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd on the COVID Facebook group. “The cumbersome CDE form is not mandated and we have talked to the CDE about its difficulty.”
CTA has set up an online petition, We Need Time to TEACH!, that locals and educators can use. It says that “the mind-numbing, over-wrought reporting requirements are taking valuable time away from our students and their education” and asks CDE to work with classroom educators and administrators to develop a process that leverages existing systems and fits within normal teacher workflows.
In a letter to Boyd on Sept. 9, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond acknowledged CTA members’ complaints and said he would convene a working group “to explore and craft solutions that best meet the needs of our educators.”
Boyd and CTA urge locals to collaborate and bargain with district and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to create simple and streamlined systems that comply with state law and note that any workload increase is bargainable.
“Teachers are constantly having to go into the computer system to change both attendance and grading codes, which is onerous and time consuming.” – Denise Bolton, President, Lawndale Teachers Association
How locals are working with districts
Systems can be as basic as maintaining daily participation and weekly engagement in a Google sheet, with LEA staff verifying the information (and teachers certifying it) to cut down on the time educators must devote to record-keeping.
For its elementary grades, Lawndale Elementary School District, for example, uses a Google sheet with drop-down options that align to SB 98’s requirements that can be easily and quickly pasted throughout columns and modified for exceptions.
But the district is K-8 and middle school tracking is different. Lawndale Teachers Association President Denise Bolton says middle school teachers must make changes in their system multiple times per day, which adds to their workload.
“They are constantly having to go into the computer system to change both attendance and grading codes,” Bolton says. Codes change if, for example,
- a student does not attend online class but turns in assigned work before 8 p.m. on that same day (code change from “absent” to “present”), or
- a student attends online class but does not turn in the asynchronous assignment later that day/evening (code change in the teacher’s electronic grade book indicating student attended synchronous session but did not turn in the asynchronous assignment), or
- a student is absent and turns in no asynchronous work but their parent communicates to teacher or office staff that same day (code change from “absent” to “present,” as well as excusing the student from the asynchronous assignment in the electronic gradebook).
“This is onerous and time consuming,” says Bolton. “Keep in mind that middle school teachers have 140-200 students over five teaching periods.”
She and other educators are meeting with several middle school principals next week in the hopes of coming up with a simpler system as soon as possible.
In another example, Brentwood Union School District is using an existing student information system for its reporting, which fits within normal teacher workflows.
“One part I saw to track your daily instructional method on a calendar seemed overwhelming. We’ll have to discuss the impacts of this.” – Carissa Carrera, President, Coachella Valley Teachers Association
Last spring, Coachella Valley Unified School District developed a system to track attendance and engagement that teachers liked. But it lacked a way to track assignments (synchronous and asynchronous instruction), so the district plans to implement a new system that complies with all requirements in the next few weeks.
Coachella Valley Teachers Association President Carissa Carrera has seen a video about the new system and wants to know more before endorsing it.
“One part I saw to track your daily instructional method on a calendar seemed overwhelming,” Carrera says. “The video mentioned it was something that could be done by office staff and not put on teachers. We’ll have to discuss the impacts of this.”
Locals can look into bargaining solutions that include providing
- additional time within the workday to complete the forms,
- additional clerical support or shifting the work to administrators or others, or
- a stipend or other compensation such as release time, exemption from other duties/staff meetings, etc.
Top photo: John Schnobrich/Unsplash