The closing of schools across Idaho earlier this month due to the coronavirus created a very different experience for career-technical programs, where hands-on work is a necessity.
At Bonneville Technical Careers High School, nearly a dozen cars had been brought in for repairs by the automotive students. Trout, being raised in a fishery program through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, were left in a tank while livestock were temporarily taken home by families during the closure.
One student had just been hired as a welder earlier this month and needed to do the final project that would earn his certification. Principal Lyndon Oswald worked with him and the welding teacher at the school to figure out how that assessment could be done remotely.
“We’ll let him go on a machine and videotape his welds, and we can have the teacher watch that and inspect the work. We can even grab the work after it’s dropped back off at school and inspect it there,” Oswald said.
The Technical Careers High School will follow the example of other schools in Bonneville Joint School District 93 when it starts online classes Wednesday. Teachers will provide two lessons a week through Google Hangouts in order to keep some level of interaction with their students. Chromebooks were handed out to families Tuesday morning that needed them to get online, and packets of work will be given to any students who still cannot log on.
Teachers will videotape themselves as they work with welding machines and finish the remaining cars that had been dropped off for repairs by the community. Students who can access welding devices at home can continue working and recording their projects, but the online move is more limiting to the school’s medical programs.
“There are some things that are just going to have to wait until we get a handle on the virus and social distancing, but we’re going to err on the side of caution,” Oswald said.
In Idaho Falls School District 91, the structure of the career-technical program meant the majority of the 284 students had finished their certification last trimester. Dozens of students in the medical programs were waiting for College of Eastern Idaho to reopen to finish their training, while others who had earned their certification entered a market where nonessential businesses were closed.
On Monday the State Board of Education approved a waiver that high school students can use to skip their workplace readiness and technical skills assessments the state uses to measure the quality of those programs. The results of those tests determine federal funding for programs through the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provided Idaho more than $8 million last year.
Clay Long, Idaho’s director of career-technical education for the State Board, said that those tests are traditionally done online. The issue this year comes from how to provide proctors for those tests, given that schools are closed and social distancing makes it impossible to keep a close eye on students.
“All those worries go back to the validity of those assessments when they’re delivered in an environment where we have limited control,” Long said.
The Career and Technical Education Consotrium of States, which oversees those assessments for Idaho and seven other states, is working to see if they can provide online proctoring that would let teachers see what students were pulling up on their computer while the test was happening.
The dual-credit and concurrent programs at the College of Eastern Idaho find themselves in a similar situation. Some students were already enrolled in online versions of those classes through the college or had experience with online learning through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
Hundreds of others were attending courses at both the college and high school campuses before they were all closed in a matter of days. CEI’s Director of Early College Programs Mary Stephenson said the school was used to handling different schedules and timelines for all the districts they worked with.
“With the COVID-19 and everyone kind of doing different things at first, it put everyone on a similar schedule right now,” Stephenson said.
For the dual-credit programs, high school teachers will be working with their faculty liaisons at the college to make sure they agree on what the essential material is for the online course. Online tutoring sessions are available and the college is providing free Wi-Fi in their parking lot for students who need somewhere to upload their assignments.
While school districts have begun debating whether to change their grading system to reflect the changes, Stephenson said that CEI will keep the letter grades to make sure that classes can be easily transferred going forward.