‘That’s unacceptable to me’: Sen. Hembree gives S.C. digital learning results ‘D-’ grade

Updated: Jul. 16, 2020 at 5:29 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Sen. Greg Hembree, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, says based on data, many students aren’t flourishing in digital learning environments and are losing a year’s worth of learning in math while at home.

Hembree made the statement Wednesday morning during Gov. Henry McMaster’s press briefing where the governor recommended schools reopen after Sept. 8 with a plan to accommodate for parents wanting either in-person learning environments at schools or a digital option at home.

But according to Hembree, many students aren’t flourishing in the digital environment and need that in-person option on the school grounds.

“The virtual learning experiment we engaged in the last semester of school got an A+ for effort,” Hembree said. ”There was a tremendous amount of work and dedication from the administrators, teachers, folks in the school system to literally turn on a dime and totally restructure their method of education in a short period of time. We asked them to do a lot, and they did do a lot. Unfortunately, in results, that effort gets a D-.”

Hembree referenced data that he says on average, shows students have lost nearly a year’s worth of learning in Mathematics and about a semester lost in English due to digital learning at home.

“If you were in the third grade when you began the school year and you are going into the fourth grade in Mathematics, on average, you’re in the third grade,” Hembree said. “You’re starting from scratch. Bottom line, [digital learning], just isn’t working for many students.”

Some parents and educators reached out to WMBF News wanting to know what data the senator was referencing during the presser.

Our news team found the report, which was provided by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee.

The study contains graphs showing projections of possible learning loss in math if students stay out of the classroom.

The report estimates that when some students go back to school in the fall, they will have retained less than 50% of what they learned during the last school year, and some could even be a full year behind.

Based on the findings from this report, Hembree says digital learning isn’t working out for many students.

“That’s unacceptable to me, that’s failing,” Hembree said.

But some educators disagree with these findings, saying they have little faith in this report because it doesn’t fully represent what students have learned at home due to the lack of standardized testing for students.

“I’m not sure how he can say that students have lost a year of learning when there’s been no standardized testing done,” said Jorie Browder, South Carolina educator. “We were allowed by the state to not do state testing this fall. No sort of standardized testing was completed in any school district in South Carolina during the closure, there was no way to do it. We as teachers, we’re trying to figure out just how to put forth instruction in a totally new way for many of us. I know it was very new for me, trying to figure out how to reach all of our students and make sure all our students were being included and had participation. There was no [standardized] testing being done.”

Browder says the senator’s “D-” grade ranking didn’t sit well with many educators in her circle.

“I find that to be absolutely ridiculous,” Browder said.

WMBF News spoke with another South Carolina educator who teaches Math. She doesn’t want to be identified by name, but wanted to weigh in on the Education Oversight Committee report.

“There’s no way [students] lost an entire year of learning. We [teachers] turned around, re-did all of our lessons, all of our plans and turned everything into virtual [lessons] when we never had done that before. And the students I’ve taught, I thought they did a great job, considering what was going on.”

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