A new report from one of the nation’s largest school districts has found a startling increase in the number of students who are receiving failing grades since classes switched to remote learning.
Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, which has been operating mostly online since the beginning of the pandemic, published a study Tuesday which found the percentage of middle and high school students earning F grades in two or more classes has jumped an incredible 83 percent.
By the end of the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, nearly 10,000 students in the school system were found to have scored an F in two or more classes, an increase of 4,300 by the same time last year.
Failing grades for English language learners are up 106 percent, while students in special education are struggling the most, with failing grades in two or most class up from 9 percent to 19 percent – an increase of 111 percent on last year.
Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school district, has reported a staggering 83 percent increase in students receiving failing grades in two or more classes in the first quarter of the academic year (file photo)
By the end of the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, nearly 10,000 students in the Fairfax school system were found to have scored an F in two or more classes, an increase of 4,300 – or five percent of students – by the same time last year
The report also found that in middle school alone, F grades have increased a staggering 300 percent in two or more classes, from a total of 2 percent of students in the first quarter of last year, to 8 percent of them in the first quarter of 2020-21.
Hispanic middle school students, according to the report, saw a 400 percent increase in Fs, English learners saw a 383 percent increase, and economically-disadvantaged middle schoolers saw a 375 percent increase in Fs.
Among both middle and high school students, the groups that saw the lowest increase in Fs were black children – at an increase of 63 percent – and white students – at a rate of 67 percent.
Meanwhile, a large contingent of students who were excelling before the pandemic are reported to be doing even better than expected.
FCSP, whose 186,000 students make up for the largest school system in Virginia, said the results of the internal study provide cause of concern because the results of the report ‘indicate a widening gap between students who were previously performing satisfactorily and those performing unsatisfactorily.’
Superintendent Scott Brabrand says FCPS is now working to identify the students who are performing below expectation and is developing specific interventions to help each one.
The study, which was originally intended as an internal report, was released by the school district under a Freedom of Information Act Request by Eileen Chollet, a mom who has been lobbying get her daughter back to in-person learning, WUSA9 reported.
Among middle schoolers, F grades have increased a staggering 300 percent in two or more classes, from a total of 2 percent of students in the first quarter of last year, to 8 percent of them in the first quarter of 2020-21
Highschools in the district, meanwhile, have experienced a 50 percent increased in failing grades, from four percent in the first quarter of last year, to 12 percent in 2020-21
Fairfax returned several thousand students to school buildings over the course of the fall, Prioritizing students with disabilities, and those whose primary language was not English.
Superintendent Scott Brabrand says FCPS is now working to identify the students who are performing below expectation and are developing specific interventions to help them
But following a sharp uptick in cases in the Washington area, superintendent Brabrand halted plans for further returns and even sent some students back to all-virtual learning.
On Monday, Brabrand then announced more than 3,000 additional students in the district – elementary-schoolers and high school students taking career and technical classes – were to return to online learning with immediate effect.
In attempt to rectify failing grades, Fairfax has been offering struggling children ‘catch up days’ and extending the first-quarter grading period.
The school system has also revised its students’ workloads, instructing teachers to give children no more than one hour of homework per-week.
Teachers have also been told provide ‘additional flexibility’ on deadlines to accommodate student absences without penalizing them and to allow for ample chances to retake a test.
However, one Fairfax teacher, who spoke to the Washington Post on grounds of anonymity, told the outlet that while he is following the district’s instructions, still 50 to 70 percent of his 150 students are achieving D’s and F’s, whereas before they had earned B’s and C’s.
‘I’m working multiple extra hours per week to figure out ways to bridge the gap and get the kids where they need to be,’ he said. ‘It really is exhausting. Co-workers of mine, usually some of the most energetic and vivacious, are worn down, too.’
School districts across the country have reported a slump in grades among students involved in remote learning – compounding fears voiced by experts since the beginning of the pandemic
Experts have warned since the beginning of the pandemic that remote schooling would take a serious academic toll on children – and FCSD’s report seems to have compounded their worst fears.
Similar instances of poor academic achievement in virtual classrooms are beginning to crop up nationwide.
In the Independent School District in Houston, more than 40 percent of students are earning failing grades in at least two of their classes, according to data observed by the Houston Chronicle.
Similarly, in St. Paul, Minnesota, a superintendent recently reported that nearly 40 percent of high schoolers in St. Paul Public Schools have received failing marks.
Bob Farrace, spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, told the Post that he’s heard from educators across the country who say they’re working themselves to the bone to keep students learning and achieving.
‘But with so many challenges at once,’ he said, ‘it’s like they’re holding back a tidal wave with a broom.’
Mother Rocio Portillo, 35, whose 17-year-old daughter is a high school junior in Fairfax County said she was saddened by the district’s report.
Portillo said her daughter had been achieving A’s and B’ before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools nationwide in March, and now her grades have slipped to C’s and one F.
She said her daughter cried every day during the first week of this semester because she found it difficult to follow lessons through Zoom.
‘What breaks me is that I know she’s trying, I know she is giving it her all,’ Portillo told the Post. ‘She knows that college is important. She wants to be somebody in life.’