Most Illinois School Districts Are Unprepared For E-Learning | WBEZ
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Most Illinois School Districts Are Unprepared For E-Learning

Updated 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

School assignments given during the mandatory school closure should not count toward student grades because most school districts are not ready for e-learning, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

With one exception, a state board spokeswoman clarified Tuesday.

“Schools may only allow student work to count during the closure, if and only if, it will increase a student’s academic standing,” said ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews.

The grading issue came up Tuesday during an ISBE web conference with school district leaders from around the state. Some leaders questioned whether students would be motivated to work during the school shutdown without grades.

All K-12 schools in the state will be closed from March 17 until at least March 30 under an order from Gov. JB Pritzker. During the Tuesday call, ISBE said it is considering plans if schools need to stay closed longer. It discussed what to do about standardized tests planned for this spring and how to expand e-learning.

Currently, some school districts can move to an e-learning plan to continue class remotely, but the state board says most districts don’t have the capability. Of the 614 districts that responded to a survey sent by ISBE over the weekend, 71% said they had obstacles to moving to e-learning. The biggest challenge was student access to broadband, followed by access to digital devices.

The board said not having assignments impact grades during this time is a matter of equity. The state is exploring whether it can move districts to e-learning by providing internet service and devices to all students if closures go beyond March 30.

Chicago Public Schools instructed teachers to hand out learning packets to be completed by students during the shutdown. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said this work should primarily be seen as enrichment, but she also suggested teachers could find ways to get students to do it.

“I think that teachers will be using all of the tools at their disposal to encourage students to do it,” Jackson said Monday. “As a parent, I will say this, I am not popular in my house, but they should be doing it anyway. And there is a lot of talk about learning for the sake of learning, so this is really an opportunity to apply that in their homes.”

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Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Students at Oscar Mayer Elementary School in Chicago wait to start the last day of school on Monday, March 16. The governor ordered all Illinois schools closed from March 17 to March 30 because of COVID-19.

Despite what Jackson said, some students leaving school Monday afternoon said their teachers had told them the work would be graded, but they would also be given time to complete it once their return. Others said they were told it would be extra credit or a way to make up for poor grades.

Michael Nwigwe, a seventh grader at National Teachers Academy on the near South Side, said he thinks the fact that it won’t be graded means most students won’t do it.

“They told us to do it so we can keep our minds sharp,” he said. He was not sure he was actually going to do the work.

His friend, however, said he would do it because he was pretty sure it would be assigned once they returned and he wanted to get it over with.

There is a process in Illinois for schools to be officially approved to offer e-learning. The governor has expedited that process as part of an executive order. ISBE still encourages schools to get e-learning plans verified by regional offices of education if they can.

The mandated school closures count as “Act of God” days, which means no district will be penalized for falling short of a required number of student attendance days.

Susie An and Sarah Karp cover education for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @WBEZeducation, @soosieon and @sskedreporter.

This story was updated on Tuesday to reflect new guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education regarding student grading during the school shutdown.

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