The Columbia Board of Education focused on three things at its Thursday work session: grades, special education and the district’s COVID-19 response.

Jennifer Rukstad, assistant superintendent for secondary education, presented data on grades for middle and high school students.

“We are up in D’s and F’s, which we expected,” Rukstad said.

Since the release of student’s interim progress reports teachers, families and students have looked to see how they could raise their grades, Rukstad said. Because of the early release of interim progress reports, families now know how to manage the work better, she said. “I have been tracking D’s and F’s data since 2000 and never has IPR data predicted the final grade.”

District teachers have made an effort this year to help high school students raise their grades by giving them credit for turning in late work and tests. As a result, the number of F’s reported at the end of the first quarter were down by 44.2% compared with the initial interim progress reports.

A’s are also up at the district’s high schools and are greater than the 2018 school year percentage, though there are less than in 2019 and the total three-year average.

The pass/fail option will not be available for high schoolers next semester, Rukstad said.

In middle school, A’s are up and so are D’s, F’s and insufficient evidence grades . Of the failing grades, 84% are insufficient evidence grades, which means that the student has not turned in enough work to show they’ve retained the information. The middle school data only focuses on core classes because electives are not considered a part of rotations.

Because of the delayed start, changes were made to the academic calendar. The first semester will end Jan. 15 and grades will be given at the end of rotations, the district’s new name for quarters, said Rukstad. When the semester ends, the grades will be called R1, or rotation one grades.

Special Education

The board also discussed special education during the pandemic.

Helen Porter, principal of Oakland Middle School, and Chris Drury, principal of Smithton Middle School, shared their schools’ experiences having in-seat special education students.

At Oakland, 67 special education students were given the option of in-seat learning, but only 27 students chose to attend in person, Porter said. At Smithton, 14 students regularly attend in seat out of the 36 students who were offered the option. Nine chose virtual at the beginning of the year, Druray said.

At both schools students are spread out around the cafeteria to attend their general education classes via Zoom and are then taken to their in-person learning specialist or skills classes.

Both principals described the hardships that came with staff shortages.

When three of the four teachers they had were out for various reasons and they only had one substitute, there was a “scramble” to find people to fill the programs, Druray said.

Alyse Monsees, director of special services, said that all district programs and skills have been available to students who receive special services.

COVID-19 updates

In his presentation to the board, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman pointed to increasing numbers of COVID-19 around the district and Missouri.

For one month Missouri has been in the red zone, according to weekly reports from the White House.

As of Monday, 17 district employees were isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 and 118 were quarantined after reporting close contacts, according to the district tracker.

By Thursday there were 24 staff members who have tested positive and 86 in quarantine. The number of staff in quarantine has been dropping since returning to virtual learning, Stiepleman said.

There were 33 positive cases among students and 250 in quarantine as of Thursday.

Learning model debate

Board members discussed the three learning models they would be voting on at the Jan. 11 meeting: four-day hybrid model, two-day hybrid model and virtual.

With the four-day model, students would attend in-person classes each weekday except Wednesdays. The Wednesday break would allow for cleaning, professional development training and planning time for teachers.

Under a two-day hybrid model, students would attend in-person classes either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

“The two-day hybrid model is not instructionally valued,” Board Member Chris Horn said. “Do we want to place our value on education or having our students in-seat?”

“You can’t have both, and circumstances will not allow you to have both,” School Board President Helen Wade responded.

Board Vice President Susan Blackburn said the district should look closer at how to support a virtual model.

Stiepleman suggested the board hold a world cafe Dec. 2. This would be a virtual version of the in-person world cafes that the board has held in the past. Panelists at the world cafe may include the board, public health experts, district administration staff, principals, teachers and parents. Attendees would be welcome to ask questions.

Stiepleman said the goal would be “to expand conversation to a larger group and help the community engage with the board.”

  • I am a graduate Education Reporter, Fall 2020. I am studying Magazine Writing. Please reach me at or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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