Roughly 40% of middle school students at Owensboro Public Schools are failing at least one class after the first nine weeks — compared to just 15% at this point last year.
OPS officials discussed the alarming statistic and how they plan to address it during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.
Chief Academic Officer Steve Bratcher said problems range from simply not participating to not grasping the concepts, but it all stems to the lack of daily in-person learning.
“We have to find ways to get students plugged in to school,” Bratcher said. “The teachers and principals feel that 40% of students simply do not want to participate in school activities. Both campuses feel like they have to find initiatives to get them to turn in work.”
Superintendent Matthew Constant said the middle school students were already the toughest to engage, so the pandemic has intensified those problems.
Though officials didn’t get into specifics of how to address the problems, they did discuss some of the general ideas.
“I hope to be able to offer a pretty robust summer program,” Constant said. “We’ve got to look at our resources and staff and all that. But if we don’t we would have significant retention issues.”
Retention isn’t normally a major issue at OPS middle schools, Constant said, but it could become one this year if action is not taken.
He said making families aware of that could be a big first step.
“We really haven’t come out and said that yet, but that probably is language that is needed so people understand now they need to kick it in gear and at least make the effort,” Constant said. “We’re seeing too many not make the effort right now.”
Bratcher said the preschool and elementary levels aren’t seeing major issues, partly because those students typically require help from parents anyway.
Bratcher said high schoolers did have some issues to start the year. But because they have more experience with virtual tools such as Google Classroom and are more capable of learning on their own, they were able to adjust. Constant also noted they have the targeted goal of graduation to motivate them.
Bratcher said the issues are not specific to OPS, and are felt across the nation. Still, they are in the midst of finding solutions to help their students succeed.
“Our district has great ideas to confront the issues of students not attending, not participating, failing, not being engaged, complaints of too much work or too little work, and student fatigue,” he said. “We have to remember great instruction is great instruction. We just have to find different ways to deliver it. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to try to find a solution.”