TEA's COVID-19 Engagement & Contact Data: How Did Our Students Do?

At the close of this past school year, the Texas Education Agency required all districts to submit Crisis Codes to document the level of "contact" and "engagement" teachers had with every student in the state. Earlier this week TEA released the preliminary summary data for "Student Engagement in Virtual Learning" based on the information provided by districts.


Regardless of how you look at it, this data is useful in telling educators across Texas what we can expect in six weeks as we run into a teaching and learning environment that will no doubt contain at least some amount of virtual learning in every district. This data also gives us a glimpse into how we need to improve if we're to provide a valid education to every student whether they're in our school buildings or at home.

A brief note on Crisis Codes:

TEA required districts to enter one of nine different codes for every student that was enrolled in their schools on the last day of school. The state grouped these nine codes into four categories: fully engaged, engagement recovered, no or lost engagement, and no or lost contact.


To be labeled fully engaged, a student had to maintain "engagement" for the majority of the remainder of the school year after the COVID-19 closure (i.e. roughly spring break for most districts).


To be labeled engagement recovered, a student was either unable to be contacted or had been contacted but not engaged prior to May 1st. These students were then contacted and engaged for the remainder of the year post-May 1st.


To be labeled no or lost engagement, students fell into one of three situations: 1) unable to be contacted until May 1st, but did not engage at any point after that; 2) contactable throughout the remainder of the year but never engaged; or 3) engaged prior to May 1st but disengaged after that point.


To be labeled no or lost contact, students again matched one of three criteria: 1) unable to be contacted at any point after the COVID-19 closure; 2) contacted but not engaged prior to May 1st, but lost contact after that point; or 3) engaged prior to May 1st, but lost contact after that point.


If you're asking how "engaged" was defined, for the most part it meant students continued to complete work of some sort. This definition was very loosely interpreted across the state; however, based on the information we've received from TEA regarding remote learning these past two weeks, districts will have to tighten up what "engagement" truly means this fall.


A basic understanding of these four categories is important if we are to make sense of the state's summary data.

The first part of the summary data was a simple breakdown of the state's data into the four categories outlined above:

Based on this data, just under 89% of students were fully engaged between spring break and the end of the year. While just over 2% of students were moved into the engaged category after May 1st, the other 9% of students were either never engaged, lost engagement after May 1st, lost contact after May 1st, or never contacted at all.


With almost 5.5 million students enrolled in Texas public schools, having almost 10% of students, or nearly 550,000 students, either minimally engaged or not contacted at all for nearly the last three months of school is concerning.


The concern, however, only increases as you look at the data by ethnicity and economic status:


The engagement/contact rate for economically disadvantaged students (84.5%), Hispanic students (86.66%), Pacific Islander students (86.9%), and Black / African-American students (83.13%) all came in below the state engagement pattern average.


And when you look at the data by grade level...

...we see that every grade level below 5th grade engaged at a rate lower than the overall state average, with the youngest students (Early Education - Kindergarten) having the lowest engagement rates in the state.


So, what do we do with this data?


As we rapidly approach a school year that will most definitely include a high amount of uncertainty and virtual learning, districts must get creative with how we engage with students and how we will fill what will no doubt be unprecedented gaps in learning.


Just imagine for a second an economically disadvantaged kindergarten student from a family who has made little or no contact with their child's school since March. Regardless of where you want to place the blame on such a situation---I do not believe the middle of a pandemic is the time we want to point fingers regarding learning loss---there are some very real gaps in phonemic awareness, decoding skills, and spelling practice that may have not happened at any point since mid-March.


And that's just with reading.


With TEA rolling out plans for two different modes of remote learning this past week (i.e. synchronous and asynchronous learning), we---parents, teachers, administrators---have to accept that the "normal" for the last three months of school will continue to be our new "normal" to some extent for the foreseeable future.


We have to do better this fall.


Teachers. Parents. Administrators. Everyone. We have 100s of thousands of students who are going to enter this new year extremely behind academically.


And I haven't even touched on the social, emotional, and behavioral deficiencies that will be waiting for us come August.


At the end of the day, the key will be patience.


Patience from parents as administrators and teachers continue to learn how to navigate a new method of teaching and learning. Patience from administrators as teachers learn to balance the desire to do what's best for their students while also monitoring their own health and well-being. Patience from teachers as administrators hand down new requirements and expectations in the name of providing a safe learning environment while also recognizing the very real need to maintain funding levels. Patience from educators as many parents continue to deal with what is a medical, economic, and (sadly) political event that is of historical magnitude.


These will be interesting times. Let's make the best of them and work together to become better educators, better leaders, and better parents so that we can meet the needs of every child.


They deserve our best. Now more than ever.

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