When we began classes in Santa Ana Unified School District in the fall, we knew that in addition to varying degrees of learning loss, students would be returning to class having experienced isolation and a high potential for emotional trauma.
We also knew that the information that we educators and administrators typically rely on, like the Smarter Balanced tests, would be unavailable this year because the state suspended administering them because of the pandemic.
In spite of all this struggle and uncertainty, we did have access to a new set of tools that provide teachers and administrators comprehensive information about the learning needs of our students. Santa Ana School District is working with California’s CORE Districts, in partnership with Education Analytics, to pilot an interactive platform called the Rally Analytics Platform.
It helps teachers and school leaders track and reflect on the well-being and academic effects of how students are experiencing the world in recent months — with everything collected in one place. Through this online platform, our teachers can view historical student data, interim and summative data, future student performance predictions and survey results of students’ wellbeing.
Valuing social and emotional learning, or SEL, is not new for us. It has been a core tenet of our district since 2014, and our district has utilized the CORE spring SEL assessment for the past five years.
This fall, however, we found ourselves with a unique need to support our educators in understanding the wellbeing of students as we started school. We asked our students in grades four to 12 to take a brief survey this fall. Approximately 23,000 (70%) students participated. This information has helped us understand their needs and reflect on and plan supports to address the effect of the pandemic holistically.
With the opportunity to reflect on and capture qualitative information about students’ well-being alongside other academic performance data, teachers are better equipped to more readily see and teach the whole child and tailor responses and lessons for individual students.
Already in a year when uncertainty and stress are at higher levels, as our teachers engage with students, they’ve been able to implement a series of short lessons that have been integrated into everyday instruction for all TK-12 students that addresses and reinforces our SEL and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) frameworks, which, were all jointly created with certificated and classified staff, parents and students. Teachers have needed to transform their educational practices in the classroom to meet the needs of their students.
This platform assists teachers with garnering the insight of what students are experiencing in distance learning and creating the interventions at the school site classroom level. In addition, it affords the site and district leaders the opportunity to discuss individual needs of schools, to address the growing needs of our community and to address not only students’ learning loss but also their basic needs of support.
Hand-in-hand with our desire to support student academic and social and emotional needs more holistically, Santa Ana appreciates and understands the connection between our education system with issues of equity and racial justice. It is not enough to hope that everyone brings the best intentions to working with data on students.
It is imperative that schools and teachers be supported and encouraged to have regular, open and honest dialogues about race and biases. Rally embeds ‘equity pauses’ within its platform to help educators consider the meaningful action that they can take to support each and every student’s development. The pauses provide space for educators to notice and reflect on how they view and understand a student’s lived experiences through a constructive lens.
As a school district, we know that open and direct conversations must be part of advancing a culture that supports the process of inquiry and creating opportunities for all students. Communication with our families and insight from all our value stakeholders is of utmost importance to us. The decisions that we make must be centered around the impact on children.
We are doing our best to see this year as an opportunity to transform the classroom and school dynamics to best meet the needs of students. By using new tools available to us, we hope to gain a clearer picture of where we need to meet our students in the new world we face.
As a superintendent, I am keenly aware of the critical role school districts and educators play — particularly this year — in ensuring all children have the opportunity to thrive and succeed. We are committed to using every possible resource and tool at our disposal that can support our communities.
Jerry Almendarez is the Superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District.
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.