THE SOPHOMORE SITUATION
CONTRIBUTORS: Jeff Hausman, President, and Gabrielle Martin, Chief Academic Officer
As most of you know, Arrupe Virtual exists to support our member Catholic schools in their quest to provide the best possible educational experience for their students. It is from this context that we write the following regarding a particular curiosity we are witnessing this school year relating to the sophomores (Class of 2024) we have encountered in our courses.
One unique benefit of the online environment in which we operate is that, unlike the traditional brick and mortar school, many of the activities in which students engage produce data. Each week, we share some of these metrics with our member schools and parents to build a web of support around our students. For the past few years, AVLI has been archiving that weekly data in anticipation of using this information to better serve our schools and students, and this past summer, we felt as though we had enough data to begin to look for trends.
Trying to draw conclusions during a period as unsettled as COVID is not ideal. Norms aren't really norms. However, what has been revealed, we believe, is that there is something noteworthy occurring with this year's sophomore class. When we first began noticing this in the fall, we reached out to a number of our member schools who expressed similar sentiments. We share the following not to raise alarm but to raise awareness. The better we understand, the better equipped we are to help. We provide here a particular narrative based on our observations, but this is certainly not a complete picture of what is happening with all sophomores or within all schools.
In our AVLI fall courses:
REGARDING GRADES, sophomores’ average grade was 67.8% and the median grade was 78.6% compared to a previous two-years average of 90.0% and median grade of 93.2% for sophomores. These two measures together indicate that sophomores are not doing as well overall, but also that the gap between those doing well and those doing poorly has increased significantly. The average and median scores for juniors and seniors remained relatively constant, straddling the 90% mark.
REGARDING ENROLLMENTS AND STUDENT DROPS, the previous 2 years, sophomores represented 10% of students and just 3% of drops. In the fall term, sophomores represented 14% of students but accounted for 21% of drops.
As part of our pre-course tutorial, students are instructed to complete a short learner skills inventory (LSI) to help focus attention on student metacognition. While strongly encouraged, this is not compulsory, and consistently between 40% and 45% of students do not complete the LSI. This fall, however, 67% of sophomores chose not to complete it, suggesting that they are either less inclined or able to process written instructions, or they are simply choosing not to bother.
Regarding coursework, the average number of weekly minutes sophomore students spent on their course site decreased by almost 34% compared to the previous two years. And where sophomores used to spend 19% more time than their junior and senior counterparts, they are now spending, on average, almost 21% less time.
In short, while it is well documented that all students have been negotiating unique challenges during the pandemic, students from the Class of 2024 seem to be experiencing struggles unique to their cohort. We know that the transition from grade school to high school is a big step. Rigor, expectations, and accountability all increase. A hallmark of our Catholic schools is the care they provide students during these initial months. One factor that may have contributed to the difficulties being experienced by the Class of 2024 is that in spite of the best efforts of schools, many of the current sophomores were not afforded the full depth of programming and support normally provided students during the introductory months of high school. The pandemic simply did not allow it. This and other factors may be contributing to some notable variations in LSI data* among these students as well. As the following graphs indicate, the sophomores completing our self-assessment this past fall scored lower on all skill categories than the sophomores in previous years.
So where do we go from here? Believe it or not, there is good news. First, we know from our conversations with our partner schools that they are keenly aware of the struggles that students are facing, and they are working tirelessly every day to walk with each and every student along their imperfect path.
While caring goes a long way, it’s simply not enough in this circumstance. What’s needed is strategy. Once again, our schools are up to the task. We know of many who are combing their own school data to develop new, coordinated approaches and programs. This includes specific strategies focusing on the Class of 2024. In sharing our data and observations, we hope to contribute to an overall improved understanding of the situation and to provide, alongside our many partners, a platform for strategic discussions between schools.
The last bit of good news is that we have time. As it relates to the Class of 2024, we collectively recognize the need within many of our schools to act. Though we’d obviously prefer that these challenges not exist, in many ways this is the ideal moment to help these students. Like a ship on a four year journey, we’ve sailed long enough to recognize the state of our current course. By making subtle corrections now, the final destination of these students can be substantially different. For what it’s worth, we’re betting on the captains and crews of our schools to expertly navigate these treacherous waters. And as always, we’ll be here to help.
* The self-assessment inventory we have developed for the Learner Skills Initiative borrows many questions from other research-based open-source inventories. Our inventory is not meant to be diagnostic. Rather, it introduces students to the learner skills and provides general markers (low/middle/high) as to their current skill development.
vol 4 issue 6