CHESHIRE — Implementation of an online learning platform recommended by a group of local teachers and school administrators has prompted opposition from some parents who have started a petition for its suspension.
Some students in 5th, 6th and 7th grades began using Summit Learning Platform this school year. School Superintendent Jeff Solan said Summit was researched and ultimately recommended by a study group of 25 teachers and administrators. The program comes at no cost to the town follow successful grant applications by Cheshire schools.
Parents have a host of concerns about Summit such as the security of their children’s information, increased screen time in school and the new assessments.
Solan said those concerns have been addressed in meetings with parents as well as a “myths versus facts” document but that some parents remain opposed to Summit.
“In this situation, that’s been incredibly difficult because there is no solution that’s working for them,” he said.
The platform is intended to provide personalized learning for students. Thus far, the response from teachers who studied it and then those who used it has been good.
“They were blown away by it. They said this was pretty revolutionary,” he said. “Our teachers have said pretty phenomenal things about what it is doing in their classroom.”
With the Summit platform, a portion of students’ time is dedicated to self-directed learning through online videos and articles and other material. To continue in the platform, students must pass assessments which means scoring eight correct questions out of ten. The tests may be taken multiple times.
“That’s a pretty significant shift for some of our kids. We don’t just move on. We have to understand what we’re talking about before we go on to the next phase,” Solan said.
Residents packed a Board of Education curriculum committee Monday evening. There was no public comment section of that meeting but board members heard a presentation from Shawn Parkhurst, assistant superintendent for instructional services, on the Summit platform.
An online petition to suspend the program has 246 signatures as of Monday.
Michael Ulicki, a Cheshire school district parent, said the assessments, which must be passed to progress, are a source of stress for his daughter. It’s also an invitation for students to do minimal work before trying to pass the assessment and move on.
“Some kids just take it as a lesson in test-taking,” Ulicki said.
The test does reflect what students should know, Solan said. Students who fail at least three times receive help from a teacher.
Online work is only about 30 percent of the platform according to Solan.
“I’ve seen very limited time when kids are focused strictly on the computer,” he said. Other work includes collaborative projects and experiments.
Summit’s funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative caused some parents to worry about the privacy of their students’ data in light of Facebook’s use of online information.
The school district said its agreement with Summit conforms with state and federal laws governing student privacy.
“The information we share with Summit is limited to student name, course and/or grade and email information for log-on purposes. We share no other personal data,” according to a school release to parents.
Ulicki contested that, saying portions of the agreement don’t comply with regulations.
Solan said the district’s attorney approved the agreement. The district’s technology provider, Apex Technology Group, said the agreement’s language was normal for similar contracts and had stronger privacy protections that some other “similar applications.”
Starting in 2014, Summit partnered with Facebook to build it’s platform according to its website. This year the education company named the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as its long-term engineering partner.
Summit was founded in California in 2003 and now has more than 100 schools in 27 states using its model.