Addressing Learning Loss: Anne Arundel Considering Virtual Learning for Inclement Weather Days

Anne Arundel County is considering a proposal to offer virtual learning on snow days as a way to help students maintain learning gains. The County is currently accepting public comments on the plan.

young girl in front of a laptop computerAnne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) is currently considering a proposal to implement virtual learning on days with inclement weather — like snow days. At the September 7 meeting of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, the Board discussed the draft plan for virtual instruction this year, which includes a maximum of eight Virtual Instruction Days (VIDs) during inclement weather, with no more than three per grading quarter.

The ACCPS website explains the proposal:

School systems have the opportunity to use a total of eight days as a virtual school day for the described purposes. The days may be synchronous or asynchronous, however, no more than three of the eight days may be used as an asynchronous day.

Utilizing days in this manner can remove days from the end of the school year. Dr. Mark Bedell, Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, is proposing that the days be used only to account for inclement weather days in the current school year.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the ongoing considerations, noting that snow days wouldn’t disappear:

Superintendent Mark Bedell said no one plans to get rid of snow days altogether, but there is still much to be explored with the new learning tool. Last school year was extended through June 24 due to eight inclement weather days.

The plan is just for this year, Mosier said. In the future the system could expand virtual instruction for teacher conference days or days like Election Day, when schools are unavailable.

Getting into the nitty gritty

The following are key parts of AACPS’ proposed plan, as described on its website:

  • Students in grades 3-12 and all instructional staff will be expected to take portable devices home daily to be able to use for Virtual Instruction Days (VID) should the need arise. Students in K through Grade 2 have devices at home and do not transport them and from school.
  • In the case of inclement weather, the Superintendent will decide if:
    • a VID is to be used at all.
    • instruction will be synchronous or asynchronous.
  • No later than a date to be agreed upon by AACPS and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, all classroom teachers will be expected to create an asynchronous lesson to be utilized on the first VID should the need arise. Teachers will be expected to create subsequent lessons after the use of a previously created lesson.
  • VIDs will count as both teacher work days and student instructional days, regardless of whether instruction is synchronous or asynchronous.
  • VIDs will occur on a previously announced class schedule (still being developed) and through a portal with access instructions communicated to students and families.
  • Whenever possible, the intent to utilize a VID, and the type of VID intended to be used, will be communicated to families and staff in advance.
  • To minimize adverse impact on a singular marking period or semester, no more than three VID days may be used in any marking period.
  • In accordance with MSDE guidelines:
    • Attendance will be taken for students and staff.
    • VIDs will not negatively impact a student’s grade. There must be meaningful opportunities for students to make up work outside of virtual instruction.
    • No employee’s pay, regardless of employee bargaining unit, will be negatively impacted by the decision to have a VID. This includes custodians, cafeteria workers, etc.

AACPS’ website also has a FAQs and responses about its plan.

Learning loss is an ongoing consideration

The school system is legally required to provide 180 of instruction each calendar year, and this proposal would be just one tool for it to meet that requirement and to help reverse some of the extensive learning loss experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, recent statewide testing data show that only one-third of Maryland fifth and eighth graders passed the state’s first statewide science examine given since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic started. Education leaders have warned about pandemic learning loss, also known as the “COVID gap,” for over a year now, but this new data reveals it may be worse than previously imagined.

It’s a fair argument to consider that offering alternative learning opportunities — like virtual learning — on traditional school closure days due to inclement weather could help make up some of that learning loss.

Next steps for the AACPS plan

Public comments will be accepted through September 18, 2022. And, notably, AACPS would need to reach an agreement with the Teacher’s Association of Anne Arundel County, “through which staff would create an asynchronous lesson — one that doesn’t require live teaching — in advance, to be used if needed.”

If approved by the County Board, the plan must also be reviewed and approved by the Maryland State Department of Education before taking effect.

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