Seniors are back in-person

2021: Seniors are back in-person for Language Arts at Red Wing High School. Aerie photo

The pandemic has affected everyone differently. For K-12 students, the last few years have been a rollercoaster of change, learning loss and educators trying their best to help.

Starting in 2019, schools around the country were debating shutdowns as the first wave of COVID-19 came to the United States.

Locally, Red Wing Public Schools created a contingency plan and was able to begin providing

all students with Chromebooks for its inevitable closure.

“The district did go full distance for all grades around Thanksgiving 2020,” said Jess Whitcomb, director of teaching and learning. 

Red Wing administrators were concerned about their students’ ability to learn while distant, but safety came first.

As countrywide COVID numbers declined, staff made the decision to have a staggered in-person return during late January 2021.

“By the end of April, we returned to full in-person learning, five days a week for all grades,” Whitcomb said. 

Unfortunately, this didn’t last long.

Cases began to rise again, and high school students started a system with two days virtual learning and two days in-person, continuing for most of 2020-2021.

“We were lucky enough to be one of the few schools to be able to keep our elementary students in-person during most of the pandemic,” Whitcomb said. 

The district was able to do this because they reopened vacant Jefferson School for more room to socially distance. Jefferson has since closed again as the need is no longer there.

During the 2021-2022 school year, all students have been in-person everyday. Masks were required until this past February and are now only recommended.

“As the CDC research found – and our experience also showed – districts like ours that had mask mandates had 25% fewer COVID-related absences than those that did not,” Superintendent Karsten Anderson said. “Masks became optional/recommended here just short of two years after Minnesota had its first case.

“I am confident Red Wing Public Schools made and continues to make wise decisions to provide our students with optimal, safe learning environments given conditions.”

Learning loss

With all the changes throughout 2019-2022, an impact on K-12 students’ learning abilities was inevitable.

Local and statewide MCA scores dropped significantly in 2021 when compared to 2019 – there was no testing in 2020 due to COVID-19.


Reading: 44% of students taking the exam scored at an “exceeds standards” or “meets standards” level.

In 2019, the result was 55%, which shows a 11% point decrease. Statewide scores had a 6% point drop.

Math: 36% of students taking the exam scored at a “exceeds standards” or “meets standards” level.

In 2019, the result was 49%, which shows a 13% point decrease. Statewide scores had the same percentage point drop.

Science: 33% of students taking the exam scored at a “exceeds standards” or “meets standards” level.

In 2019, the result was 51%, which shows a 18% point decrease. Statewide scores had a 8% point drop.

When the scores were released, School Board members and Anderson discussed why the results dropped and most believed this was due to COVID-19.

Current goal

At the time, Anderson said the goal was to get the numbers back up, while focusing on student learning first. This goal still stands today.

“Grades will ebb and flow depending on where student learning is at any given point in a semester,” Whitcomb said. “If all students came in with 100% of the knowledge, we wouldn't need to teach. Learning is happening every day in Red Wing Public Schools …”

The district’s strategy for learning improvement is to teach its core curriculum at a high level of rigor along with quality support for students who need a little extra help.

“We have programs such as Title I, ADSIS, Instructional Coaching, REACH classes, after school tutoring, community organizations, counseling and social workers,” Whitcomb said. “All of these and more are strategies we are always doing as a school district to meet our students' needs.”

2022 MCA scores have not been released yet, but no matter the results, Red Wing schools will continue to put an emphasis on teaching and not statistics.

“Although grades help us measure learning, our focus [will] always be on learning versus grades,” Whitcomb said.

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