Last fall, distance learning significantly increased failing grades in the Clark County School District. This spring’s results were even worse.
For the recently completed semester, 15.9 percent of assigned grades were F’s. More than 39 percent of district students received at least one F. That means more than 115,000 students failed at least one class. The district provided this data in response to my request.
These numbers are worse than the first semester. Last fall, 13 percent of assigned grades were F’s, and 37.5 percent of students received at least one F.
The district wasn’t starting from a great baseline. But comparing this data with a past year reveals the damage of distance learning. In spring 2019, 6.4 percent of all grades were F’s. Less than a quarter of students received at least one F.
Distance learning increased the number of F’s by nearly 150 percent.
“We have long acknowledged that there will be learning loss and an impact on students’ grades and assessments,” district spokeswoman Melinda Malone said in a statement.
For many of those children, the damage is likely to be long lasting and life altering. A failing grade means a student hasn’t mastered grade-level concepts. The teacher in the next grade won’t be re-teaching those skills but building upon them. If students couldn’t successfully complete the prior grade’s work, their chances of succeeding in a higher grade are slim to none. For many, that’s the start of a cycle of failure. Without a solid educational foundation, the college and career prospects of students diminish significantly.
It’d be one thing if the district held failing students back until they had mastered grade-level concepts. That would give children a chance to catch up and not be overwhelmed at the next level. But that would make district officials look bad. No surprise they didn’t pursue that option.
Perhaps a few students will catch up during summer school. But education officials shouldn’t pretend a few weeks of instruction can compensate for a year out of the classroom.
Low-income students did especially poorly. In spring 2019, the number of F’s received by those students was 8 percent. Just more than 29 percent received at least one failing grade. In spring 2021, those numbers skyrocketed to 20 percent and 48.2 percent, respectively.
Black and Hispanic students also fared poorly. The percentage of African American students receiving at least one F went from 33.8 percent to nearly 50 percent. Among Hispanic students, it went from 27.3 percent to 45.5 percent.
Asian and white students didn’t fare as poorly but still saw significant academic declines. The percentage of Asian students receiving at least one F went from 10.9 percent to 21.1 percent. Among white students, it went from 15.5 percent to 25.5 percent.
The only good thing about failing grades is that they show students, parents and teachers where improvements need to be made. Knowing what to work on is a necessary component to improving performance.
The district does have a plan to raise grades. Unfortunately, it involves dumbing-down grading standards rather than promoting student achievement. Superintendent Jesus Jara’s plan would allow students to endlessly retake assessments, make 50 percent the minimum grade and eliminate penalties for late work.
“CCSD’s proposed grading policy changes will work to address inequities,” Malone said.
Artificially reducing the number of F grades may appear to “address inequities,” but it won’t do anything to help students learn. And it would be precisely the wrong approach, especially after the disaster that was distance learning,