Only 280,000 New York City public school students, translating to 26% of the student population, have attended classes in person this fall, a substantially lower number than previously reported by the city’s Department of Education.
The newly released figures paint a different picture of in-person instruction in schools, and cast some doubt over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s assertion that parents are embracing in-person instruction. It also raises questions about whether more students have left the system altogether.
“Given the pandemic and the extraordinary amount of upheaval, that's not a bad number,” de Blasio said at a news conference on Monday. “But we want that number to go up. So, we have work to do.”
Just last week, officials said that 541,469 of public school students, or 54%, have opted for all-remote learning, a number that’s steadily increased since August. This would have meant that over 460,000 students were attending school in person, not the 280,000 that the mayor reported on Monday.
An education department spokesperson said the remote learning survey conducted over the summer was an “approximate projection” and “our best understanding at the time.”
De Blasio had leaned heavily on survey results over the summer when he pushed for reopening schools, claiming “the vast majority” of families wanted to come back to school. The survey asked parents to proactively sign up for remote learning; any student who didn’t was automatically placed in the in-person pool. But as the school reopening faced delays and problems, more and more families chose to stay home. Many principals consistently reported most of their families were choosing the remote-learning option.
At Monday’s news conference, de Blasio said the 280,000 students still outdid the size of many school districts as he sought to encourage more families to switch to in-person learning. He pointed to the educational benefits as well as the school-based COVID-19 randomized testing program, which has a positivity rate of 0.15%.
“So, we are seeing more and more evidence of just how safe our schools are and more and more evidence that kids are benefiting from in-person education,” he said.
The city has launched two new sites where parents can track results of coronavirus tests in schools: schools.nyc.gov/covidresults and schools.nyc.gov/casemap.
The DOE has also changed plans for the opt-in period for in-person learning. After saying for months that families would be able to opt-in quarterly, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced today that there will be only one more chance to choose in-person learning this academic year, from November 2nd to 15th.
The DOE released new details on attendance rates and grading policies on Monday.
“Overall, since September 16th we have an average attendance rate of 85.3 percent, similar to the average 86 percent attendance we saw in the Spring,” said spokesperson Nathaniel Styer. “Prior to the pandemic, we had a five-year average attendance rate of 91.6 percent.”
As in past years, Styer said the attendance rate has climbed over the course of the first month of school, with attendance both in-person and online highest among kindergarten through fifth graders, and lowest among high schoolers.
A month into school, the DOE also laid out a new attendance policy for blended-learning, which Carranza said would be more rigorous than last spring.
For in-person learning, standard practice applies: students are ‘present’ when in the classroom and ‘absent’ when they’re not. For remote learning, students have to be ‘present’ in a virtual classroom during synchronous instruction, or participate in their asynchronous course work.
“For asynchronous instruction, this may look like completing pre-recorded lessons and coursework or participating in group-collaborative projects and discussions in an online setting.” Styer said. “Absent” is defined as not being present "during a remote class, remote lesson, or scheduled student-teacher instruction during the scheduled school.”
This contrasts with the policy officials stitched together in the spring, where a wide range of activities had qualified a student as “present” for remote learning. In some schools, students needed to participate in a video chat; in others, students simply had to answer a question of the day.
The DOE announced it will be posting daily attendance numbers online, but the numbers will reflect attendance the day prior.
As for grading, schools can determine what grading scale will be used -- whether it’s a numerical or letter grade system -- but there will once again be no Fs.
Instead, the lowest mark for students in kindergarten through 5th grade will be “N” for “needs improvement.” Families with elementary-age children can also opt for passing grades to be replaced with “meets standards.”
Students in sixth through eighth graders who are at risk of failing their classes will get “course in progress” or “NX.” Families can choose for passing grades of “P” which will not be factored into their GPAs.
For high schoolers, students will receive “course in progress” or “NX” instead of failing grades, and families can elect to have passing grades marked as “credit” or “CR” if they don’t want those grades factored into students’ GPAs.