COVID: Cayman schools dealing with student absences, learning loss

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***Editor’s Note: The Office of Education Standards has completed its one-day ‘thematic visits’ to Cayman Islands schools. This is the third in a series of stories looking at the OES reports from a comprehensive perspective.***

Cayman Islands schools have been trying to manage COVID-19 related absences and associated learning loss during this school year, with varying degrees of success.

Many schools have invested in online resources, and others have also added additional in-person classroom time in order to address anticipated shortfalls in student achievement, according to reports from Office of Education Standards inspectors.

For example, Calvary Baptist Christian Academy implemented a new online version of the school’s Abeka curriculum, including more ‘streamed hours’ that allow students to access live or recorded lessons.

Still, Chief Inspector Nicholas Sherriff wrote, “Middle leaders in English, mathematics and science did report periodic learning loss linked to isolation and remote learning suggesting they were in a constant state of catching up.”

From January to April 2022, inspectors conducted one-day ‘thematic visits’ to 34 public and private schools across the Cayman Islands.

(Inspectors also visited UCCI to examine its dual-enrolment programme with CIFEC.)

Due to the pressures of COVID on schools, the one-day visits were held in lieu of more comprehensive inspections.

Many schools reported increased absences as students and staff had to quarantine due to COVID, linking student absences directly to learning loss.

At East End Primary School, at one point in the Fall 2021 term, attendance dropped to as low as 30%.

“School leaders are aware of a degree of learning loss across the core subjects [of English, Mathematics and Science] and have identified knowledge gaps through testing. The learning loss is different across the three subjects and heads of department have programmes designed for closing the gaps in each area,” an inspector wrote.

At Hope Academy, student attendance dropped by 20%. “The pandemic has impacted the school in terms of staff turnover and negatively affected some students’ academic performance,” an inspector wrote.

Student attendance at Theoline L. McCoy Primary School in Bodden Town declined from 95% to 88%. Inspectors noted that student attainment at the school was “below international standards”.

At Joanna Clarke Primary School in Savannah, attendance declined from 87% to 83%. An inspector wrote, “In line with early international reporting, attainment was lower than expected. However, student data and work scrutiny reveal that all groups of students continue to make progress during the pandemic.”

At Clifton Hunter High School, students who were on the ‘at-risk register’ for additional learning needs “who were out of school for prolonged periods due to COVID-19, often exhibited behavioural issues on transitioning back to face to face class routines,” an inspector wrote.

Almost all schools put more resources into online learning in response to COVID. To mitigate stalled student progress, particularly in subjects like mathematics, some schools also added classroom learning time.

Layman Scott High School in Cayman Brac extended the school day starting in Fall 2021. An inspector wrote, “Heads of department produced data evidencing that learning gaps had now been closed to the effect students were now progressing above expected levels in core subjects.”

John Gray High School held a “summer catch-up camp” that translated to a “solid start” by most students on baseline assessments taken in September, an inspector said.

Cayman Islands Further Education Centre created additional programmes to help students prepare for external exams, particularly in Mathematics.

However, an inspector wrote, “Centre leaders reported that whilst additional support was offered, a number of students were still not taking advantage of the help which took place after centre or at the weekend, such as the ‘Mathematics Marathon’. The centre cited transport, home access and family commitments as reasons for the lack of engagement for many.”

There were some exceptions to the general trend of increased student absences.

Notably, student attendance at Island Montessori remained above 94%. Unlike other schools, an inspector wrote, “Nearly all staff and students in the primary phase did not wear masks. The school reported this was due to medical exemptions.”

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