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F grades spike by 83% due to school closures in response to COVID-19

New research on student grades conducted in one of the United States’ largest school districts shows that the number of students getting “F” marks has increased by 83% this year due to the COVID-19-related restrictions on in-person learning, with students with disabilities bearing the brunt.

“Among middle and high schools students, there was an 83 percent increase in the number of students receiving two or more F marks,” says the new study on Virginia’s largest school system, Fairfax, which has 186,000 students, done by the Office of Research and Strategic Improvement.

The study analyzed marks at the end of the first quarter in the school year 2020-21 compared to marks from the school year 2019-20 Q1. “Overall, F marks increased from 6 percent of the all marks to 11 percent of all marks,” it found.

The amount of increase among racial/ethnic, gender, and other student groups was highest among students with disabilities, at 111%, followed by English learner students, at 106%, according to the study. The study “follows on the heels of concerns locally and at the state and national level that student performance may be lower during the current year, when virtual instruction is prevalent, than in past years when in-person instruction was the norm.”

Among black students, the increase was 63%, and 67% among white students.

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“Nonetheless, all groups showed increases in the percentage of F marks received during Q1 of the current year as compared to the prior year, indicating that more students were failing courses during the (primarily) virtual instruction period than had occurred when instruction was delivered in-person,” the study said.

The Washington Post noted that guidance posted online says that Fairfax teachers were asked to provide “additional flexibility” on deadlines and allow test retakes to make online learning easier for the students. However, an anonymous Fairfax high school teacher was quoted as saying that he followed the guidance and still, 50 to 70% of his 150 students were achieving D’s and F’s while they had earned B’s and C’s earlier.

Many schools closed their doors and turned to virtual learning to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Churches and faith organizations stepped in to provide spaces for students to learn as parents were unable to stay home or internet access was unavailable.

Earlier this month, CDC Director Robert Redfield said schools are the best place for children to be during the pandemic.

“The infections that we’ve identified in schools when they’ve been evaluated were not acquired in schools,” Redfield said at a coronavirus task force briefing held at the White House, according to Fox News. “They were actually acquired in the community and in the household.”

He continued, “The truth is, for kids K-12, one of the safest places they can be, from our perspective, is to remain in school, and it’s really important that following the data, making sure we don’t make emotional decisions about what to close and what not to close. I’m here to say clearly the data strongly supports that K-12 schools — as well as institutes of higher learning — really are not where we’re having our challenges.”

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