McAllen ISD details fall online learning curriculum

McALLEN — If the tail end of the 2019-20 school year was a dress rehearsal for virtual instruction at Texas school districts, the curtains on the debut of the actual performance are set to rise at the end of the month.

At least that’s how McAllen ISD’s remote learning plan for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 24, makes the situation seem; comparing the new requirements expected from district students this fall to the ad hoc state standards implemented at the end of the spring semester.

The 40-page plan outlines what’s being expected of the district and its students by the state, describes scheduling, modes of learning and instructional materials, and addresses other aspects of the district’s pandemic program, like special education arrangements and attendance protocols.

(Click here to read the plan.)

“This is important information for us because this is a new frontier. We’ve never started a school year off this way,” Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez said during a virtual town hall discussing the plan Wednesday. “We learned a lot from going remote in the spring that’s going to help us be very successful in the fall…”

One of the most obvious differences between last semester and the upcoming one is more stringent requirements from the state.

“Moving forward into the fall, we will now be following an accountability-driven remote instruction. This means that all mandates required by TEA will be in place,” Dr. Silvia Ibarra, assistant superintendent for instructional services, said during the town hall. “I want to again reassure our parents that remote instruction will be taught with fidelity, there will be rigor and there will be accountability, as the state expects us to do so.”

Much of that accountability includes attendance and learning metrics that were waived in the spring. According to the plan, daily attendance will be recorded and students are expected to be in attendance for 90% of the days class is offered in order to avoid being labeled truant.

Associate Superintendent for Instructional Leadership Bridgette Vieh said during the town hall that excused absences should be reported to students’ campuses in the regular manner, noting that even if a student missed instruction they may be able to complete assignments later in the day and still be counted.

“Our technology team knows how to capture that work that you did and it can count for attendance, even though you missed the live time with the teacher,” she said.

The district is aiming to prepare students for learning metrics the state has resumed requiring, including STAAR testing and traditional grading systems, by implementing synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Synchronous instruction essentially refers to live, real-time instruction from teachers while asynchronous instruction consists of pre-recorded lessons and tasks.

The plan breaks down the 45- to 90-minute lesson cycles by the minute for both types of learning. The lion’s share of asynchronous courses will be spent on independent work, while most of the time in synchronous classes will be devoted to a “direct teach” portion.

“This is probably the most important part of the lesson,” Ibarra said. “This is where the teacher will actually deliver the instruction, explain the concept, model a skill or a concept. So this is very, very important and it is where most of the student learning will occur.”

The plan shows that the district clearly prioritized allocating real-time synchronous instruction to core classes rather than electives. Secondary school students, for example, will learn core curriculum like science, math, English and social studies on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through synchronous instruction and on Tuesdays and Thursdays through asynchronous instruction.

Non-core subjects, classes like Spanish and physical education, will only be taught through synchronous instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Synchronous instruction for core curriculum is favored at the elementary level as well in the plan. Elementary school students should expect to engage in synchronous instruction with their teachers for math and reading on a daily basis for about 90 minutes each, more than any other class.

“Reading and math are foundational at the elementary level. These are very important subjects, they’re foundational, and that foundation is needed for students to be successful in middle school and high school,” Ibarra said.

Other portions of the document discuss instructional supplies like physical textbooks, iPads and Chromebooks, and WiFi hotspots available to families. It also addresses things like the district’s meal program and the 2020-21 special education program.

The plan says therapy and counseling for the district’s 2,800 special education students will be conducted online, although some assessments will be performed face-to-face.

“We do want to reassure our community that we are providing the necessary services for our special education students,” Ibarra said.

According to Maribelle Elizondo, special education director, face-to-face instruction will be used for testing to qualify for special education services and for students who are already in the special education program that need to be re-evaluated every three years or at parent request. Classroom instruction for special education will be provided via online platforms through synchronous and asynchronous teaching.

The town hall video discussing the remote learning plan is posted on McAllen ISD’s Facebook page.