Lessons Learned from One Educator During the Pandemic: When Plans Change, Students’ Scores and Stakeholder Surveys Inform Next Steps

February 25, 2021
Stepan Mekhitarian

Every district is looking ahead to a post-pandemic world and pulling in as much data as possible to make informed decisions and transform the learning experience in ways that benefit everyone. Student assessments and surveys can offer a wealth of information for district leaders as they plan for the next phase of student learning.

One educator recently shared his takeaways on how the pandemic has impacted his district. Dr. Stepan Mekhitarian, Interim Director for Innovation, Instruction, Assessment, and Accountability at the Glendale Unified School District in Glendale, California, and author of The Essential Blended Learning PD Planner: Where Classroom Practice Meets Distance Learning shares how technology has transformed learning, how professional development has been expanded, and what he believes district leaders and students should anticipate as people are vaccinated and students and staff return to school. 


Keep plans malleable—and review them regularly

Many districts had solid contingency plans that outlined strategies for temporary disasters (hurricane, floods, or lockdowns), but Dr. Mekhitarian believes that even the best-laid plans require flexibility and that frameworks should be viewed with a growth mindset.

The pandemic certainly reaffirmed our understanding that leaders can never stagnate. What traditional classrooms may have looked like a year ago are just a shadow of what students and staff will return to in the fall of 2021. Technology has opened our eyes to dynamic instructional platforms that will forever alter how teachers teach, students learn, and assessments and metrics are set, analyzed, and reported.

Educators and administrators in the Glendale Unified district became experts at instructional technology programs, which bolstered professional development and knowledge of best practices in distance learning.

Dr. Mekhitarian’s team realized the necessity of modifying pre-pandemic assessments to take into account different performance metrics given remote and hybrid learning models. To more accurately reflect student learning against objectives and goals, they used the State of California requirements as a baseline but also “created our own interim assessment, which allows us to instantly see metrics associated with attendance, discipline, college and career readiness criteria, and more. We’re also able to parse out the performance of different subgroups and analyze areas where there are challenges so that adjustments can be made and supports put in place.”


Make student needs a priority

The disruptions caused by the pandemic impacted more than students’ learning. They impacted fundamental and basic needs, including equitable access to healthy food, technology, peer engagement, and emotional support. Although many schools had systems in place on site to address these needs, circumstances demanded that educators rapidly pivot when students were asked to learn from home.

Glendale Unified set up processes to make sure that every student had a device and access to hotspots at home. “We ordered a lot of hotspots because we didn’t have enough. We also set up a kiosk in the downstairs and district office to make sure that if any devices either didn’t work or a computer went missing, students could come in and obtain a replacement device so that there was no disruption in learning.”

The district also placed significant focus on student voice. “We wanted to make sure that there were opportunities for students to interact and collaborate, to receive small-group instruction in addition to whole-group learning. We also set up systems in which to make sure we’re supporting students with their mental health and wellness and work closely to deliver support as needed.”


“We wanted to make sure we approached the transition from an equity lens and make certain that all of our students had access and no one was left behind because of this transition.”  


Survey students and staff

No district presumed everything would be perfect from the start, yet mounting expectations from states, parents, and staff meant that district leadership juggled the demands of not just academics, but consistent and timely communication with multiple audiences. 

As a part of Glendale Unified’s regular dialogue, Dr. Mekhitarian began conducting quarterly stakeholder surveys to understand relevant details and data points to support the district’s evolution. “Distributed to students, teachers, and parents or guardians, the results of these surveys allowed us to address discrepancies and adjust our programs.” 

He found that administering social-emotional surveys every semester provided data that gave educators a clear sense of how students were feeling. “We're very, very happy to see that our sense of belonging scores were very high, which is an area that I think a lot of people were concerned about over distance learning, because we picture it being more difficult to connect or to belong when you're physically distant.” 


“It’s our job to make sure they’re growing in multiple facets, not just academics.” 


“Students are immensely insightful. They know good instruction when they see it. They know when they're learning. And just asking them what that experience has been like over distance learning helps inform our next steps.” 

To listen to more of Dr. Mekhitarian’s insights, as well as other education leaders on similar topics, check out our podcast at www.OpportunityThrives.com.

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