Secondary students attending Arlington Public Schools (APS) are earning more failing grades during the coronavirus pandemic than in previous years, new data shows, further highlighting the negative impact virtual learning can have on certain students.
The data was presented in an internal report released online on Thursday that compared APS middle school and high school student’s quarter one grades from 2020-21 to quarter one grades from 2018-19 and 2019-20.
The overall percentage of middle and high school Arlington students earning Es – the division’s version of a traditional F or failing grade – increased by 2.8 and 3.5 percent respectively from the first quarter of 2019-20, according to the report.
Also, E grades this year accounted for 4.6 percent of all middle school grades and 8.5 percent of all high school grades, the report said.
While detailing the report to members of the Arlington School Board during a semi-virtual meeting on Thursday, Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran said: “The percentage of students earning Es in quarter one [of this year] increased for all student groups when compared to previous years.”
The lengthy report broke the students into groups by ethnicity, those with disabilities, English learners of different levels, economically disadvantaged students and students accessing support through a 504 plan, which is for to help children with special needs that do not want or qualify for special education services learn better.
Some of the highest increases in Es were seen in students with disabilities and English learners at varying levels.
Es for middle school students with disabilities went from 4.5 percent in 2019-20 to 8.6 percent this year (4.1 percent increase), while high school students with disabilities saw the number of earned Es increase by 7.2 percent between the two years, according to the report.
Middle school level one English learners earned 15.1 percent more Es so far this year, jumping from 1.8 percent in 2019-20 to 16.9 percent in 2020-21, and failing grades for high school students at the same level increased by 16.9 percent from the previous year to account for 26.4 percent of all grades for that specific group, according to the report.
In terms of the ethnic breakdown, Hispanic students in middle and high school had the largest increase in Es compared to other groups of students identified at White, Asian, Black or other. comparing quarter one of 2019-20 to 2020-21, E grades for Hispanic middle school students increased by 7.1 percent, whereas Hispanic high school students’ Es increased by 7.8 percent, the report said.
Additionally, the report found that students from low-income families were also failing at higher rates this year.
During the meeting, school board member Tannia Talento raised a question whether the increase in Es was coming from students who usually received exemplary grades in normal schooling or were from students that typically got C or D grades. But, Talento’s question was never answered by Duran or a different board member.
In an attempt to help solve some of the challenges students might be facing while learning virtually, Arlington school officials said they are offering support through “work space” programs, which allows students to get some in-person learning in small groups throughout the week.
The program is intended for students that struggle with internet connectivity, getting the technology to work and those that struggle with engaging during virtual learning.
Some of the other solutions brought up by school officials include: certain middle schools restructuring advisory periods to provide more intensive help to students, home visits/wellness checks, counselor check-ins, small group instruction, outreach to parents as well as evening tutoring sessions, among others.
“There’s a lot of things that we can do, and are happening in many of our classrooms and schools, but we need to make sure now that we’re seeing this data in this way that we’re being consistent about how we are addressing our secondary students,” Duran said during the meeting.
Arlington is not the only school division in Virginia that has discovered an increase in failing grades though. Late in November, Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest division in the state, released a study that found students earning F grades in two or more classes jumped by 83 percent.
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