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Education: Flexible expectations will be required

Just a month ago, students and, no doubt, teachers in West Virginia and Ohio were looking forward to nice spring breaks and classes ending for the year in late May or early June. Mother Nature had been good to us, after all, with few instructional days lost to bad weather.

Then Mother Nature took a sharp turn, introducing us to COVID-19. Public schools in both states may have to remain closed for many weeks.

So much for being ahead of the game in meeting state mandates for the number of days students must be in school. In West Virginia, that is 180 days per school year. In Ohio, a different system is used; it mandates 910 instructional hours a year for students in grades K-6 and 1,001 for those in grades 7-12.

The very last things students, families and educators need to be worrying about now is whether schools will have to be open into the summer to make up for days lost to the COVID-19 closures. They also should not be overly concerned about how absences related to the coronavirus closure will affect scores on standardized tests.

Most schools have systems in place to help children learn while they are on the current enforced break. Long-term homework assignments have been sent home. Some instruction will be provided online. Teachers stand ready to provide help, online or over the phone.

Still, nothing replaces classroom time. If students are absent for many weeks, it may be reflected in their performance on standardized tests.

The exams still should be given, if possible. But all involved — primarily parents and policymakers interested in better schools — should bear in mind that if the scores are abnormally low, there is a good reason for the slump.

Regarding instructional days/hours mandates, state legislatures should stand ready to be flexible. If state codes or policies need to be changed, lawmakers should do that.

We — and their teachers — want the kids to learn. But COVID-19 is an all-bets-are-off situation, and that needs to be recognized.

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