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Report: Many more students receive failing grades during pandemic

How important is in-person instruction to a child’s school success? The coronavirus pandemic is giving unique insights into the process of learning. Even as schools and the community struggle to decide the right way to deal with the threat of illness, new information shows that more students are failing than would be in a typical year.

The Associated Press analyzed report cards from schools around the country an found many more Fs — and more zeros — than usual.

The dramatic increase in the number of failing grades is occurring in school districts of all sizes in places all across the country. For example:

  • In October in New Mexico, over 40% of middle and high school students were failing at least one class
  • In Houston, 42% of students got at least one F in the first grading period
  • In St. Paul, Minnesota, almost 40% of all high school students’ grades were Fs, which is double the typical number

According to an analysis by the Fairfax County, Virginia, school system, students with disabilities and English language learners tend to be the students with the greatest increases in failing grades. The same is likely true in California and elsewhere.

Sometimes, the problem is technology. Some students have a harder time using Zoom and online education platforms. In other cases, the reason for a child’s failing grade is less obvious.

One high school sophomore from Fairfax County, for example, was usually a good student. But during remote learning, he was failing every class at one point, including physical education. His sister, meanwhile, is happy to work independently and is doing well. This may simply be due to differences in how each child naturally learns.

According to the AP, educators have noticed some trends:

  • Internet access may be limited or inconsistent, making it more difficult for students to complete or upload their assignments
  • Students learning from home tend to skip assignments altogether or otherwise fail to participate in school, as opposed to turning in assignments that are poorly done
  • Without in-person contact, it isn’t as obvious when students fall behind

Schools are trying a variety of outreach programs to help students participate more effectively. Some have brought struggling students into the school building in small groups. Others have been making phone calls to coach kids who are having trouble.

Some schools are grading differently. For example, they may count an undone assignment as 50% instead of 0% to prevent a large hit to the child’s grade point average.

Some teachers are giving less homework. Others are focusing on methods of instruction other than traditional lectures.

How is your school dealing with distance learning during the pandemic?