Scores of students are getting F's. What's the point of failing them during COVID-19?

It was only a few weeks ago that Christopher Lamar discovered that he had failed most of his classes.
Lamar, an 18-year-old senior at Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Florida, had always enjoyed being a student. He ran to return home; He founded a spirit club. Things changed when the class went online this year. Lamar had to take care of his siblings and cook to clean and manage the household. School fell at the bottom of his priority list.
When Lamar's advisor told him that his mid-semester progress report was covered in Fs, it hit him: not only was he a failed scientist, a subject he had once excelled in, but he had the prospect of a diploma in the spring to get denied.
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Lamar has made it a goal to be a firefighter for as long as he can remember, and if he doesn't graduate, he realized that goal could be nothing more than a faded dream.
Lamar is one of around a dozen seniors at Lake Nona High who failed the majority - if not all - of their distance learning classes earlier this fall. These seniors chose to end their semester online but on campus: in a portable classroom with the help of a dedicated teacher. Like Lamar, many of them were engaged in domestic chores; Some just couldn't find their groove with virtual classes. And as with Lamar, all students are back on track.
At the national level, students whose grades are falling, including seniors whose graduation prospects are at stake, may not have a chance to recover.
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While a recent study by RAND Corporation found that only 6 out of 10 U.S. teachers will give letter grades this fall, that rate is nearly double what it was last spring. Class failure rates have increased in districts across the country from Virginia to Hawaii. And these Fs tend to focus on low-income color school students, data shows, as well as those who are still learning English or have disabilities.
The trend raises questions about the grading culture in general - especially at a time when performance is so influenced by factors beyond the control of students. “Traditional valuation practices don't just give us inaccurate information. They're also unjust, ”said Joe Feldman, an education advisor who works with schools to improve grading practices, and wrote the book Grading for Equity.
"There's never a reason a child should fail when that child - failure means you have absolutely no way to master anything," said Tanji Reed Marshall of Ed Trust, a national nonprofit that seeks to fill in gaps in opportunity Schools close. "The idea of ​​failing students in the moment seems pointless, especially when the ... 'lack of attendance' of a student is not due to their own fault."
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More children than ever before are struggling with starting school with closed cafeterias and empty cabinets at home.
Grades are subjective
The purpose of grades is, or at least it should be, to ensure that students perform well over the long term.
For example, grades can help an elementary school identify and target interventions for third graders who are lagging behind in reading. Students who are not competent readers by the end of third grade drop out of high school four times more often than their peers.
Some studies also suggest that high school GPA is a far better indicator of their chances of entering and completing college than their SAT or ACT score, possibly because the grades are more personal.
But personalization, Feldman argues, is as much a curse as it is a blessing. Today's grading practices are inherently subjective, which in turn makes them prone to implicit biases about student performance and potential.
For example, grades that take into account factors such as classroom behavior tend to punish Black, Latin American, and Indigenous students who are more disciplined than their white counterparts. A 2018 study published by the Fordham Institute, a right-wing education think tank, found that class inflation - the practice of giving a student higher grades that "are inconsistent with objective measures of student achievement" - is most pronounced in schools was primarily serving wealthy communities.
Experts fear that this type of prejudice could play a role amid the pandemic.
Reed Marshall, a former teacher, even suspects that such tendencies have become more pronounced. "You implant your belief system in difficult times," she said, emphasizing that many educators "get into student homes not only from a bird's eye view, but also from a bird's eye view."
"If what you see is something you do not appreciate or feel sorry for," she continued, "you will look at your way of teaching through these lenses."
For example, during a normal school year, a teacher can award points for participation based on whether students have their textbook wrapped in a protective cover, Feldman said. Now that teacher can dock attendance points instead if a student doesn't turn on their camera during class. However, some students leave their cameras off because they're ashamed of their home decor or because siblings are walking around in the background.
However, a strict classification is currently attractive because other measurements, such as B. standardized tests have been interrupted.
In interviews, some students stated that the poor grades they have received so far accurately reflected their performance in their respective classes. "My brain works differently," said Grace Coons, a high school student in Portland, Oregon who has difficulty absorbing information when taught virtually and has stalled in some subjects as a result.
Although she was frustrated, she appreciated seeing her grades earlier this semester because "now I know what to get myself into."
Several seniors in the Lake Nona High cohort similarly referred to their Fs as an important wake up call that, along with the support they are now receiving, enabled them to get back on track in time for graduation.
"What fails?"
But giving an F for accountability can do more harm than good, said Noelita Lugo, a mother of three who was recently elected to the board of directors of the Austin Independent School District in Texas. As in many districts across Texas, Austin school failure rates have increased where around 11,700 students failed at least one class by mid-October, a 70% increase from last year.
Lugo's two older children are Austin students and more or less academically afloat. The newly shaped school council member, however, fears that the emphasis on pre-pandemic methods of measuring performance will take a psychological toll on them and their peers.
She pointed to her first grader, who was lagging behind reading in kindergarten and couldn't catch up. The other day he asked, "Mom, will I ever read?"
Lugo's family has several advantages: they are trained in social work, have the luxury of working remotely, and their spouse is a home father. “I can only imagine the children of all ages who feel this way - who ask themselves, 'Will I always fail? Will i never catch up? How long will it take? "She said." As long as this year has felt for adults, as long as it has felt for young people. "
In the end, grades won't measure achievement, said Emily Sawyer, a mother of five high school students in Austin.
"What we're going to measure in the end is whether a child has a caregiver at home, internet, a device," she said. "I keep hearing that our children fail and I ask," Well, why fail? "
Sawyer's oldest child, a high school freshman who never bothered with academics, is now constantly worried about the long-term effects of his sliding grades. The country's education system, she says, "has not adjusted (her) expectations of children at all, and it is not okay."
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Grades have an immense impact on a student's self-esteem and can reinforce a solid mindset: "I wasn't able to do this in the beginning, so I never will," Feldman said.
Even before the pandemic, more than 3 in 4 high schoolers were concerned about the possibility of not doing well in school. This was the result of a 2019-2020 Stanford University survey of around 54,000 high schoolers.
Who's to blame?
Some seniors in the Lake Nona High School cohort attributed their nasal cracks in part to ineffective teaching in a virtual environment.
Jovaric Velazquez did his chores but "found the classes boring" and was rated no-shows for 120 of them at the time of the Thanksgiving break.
Lamar, the aspiring firefighter, gave a similar rationale for his distance learning problems earlier this semester: “They have teachers who are really boring and monotonous; You have no emotions, ”he said. "They tend not to really pay attention in class."
Claudia and Carla Polonio Nunez, twins, said they often fell asleep during the day.
But teachers can resist efforts to be lenient with students while learning online amid the pandemic. Grading is often teachers' "last island of autonomy," Feldman said. States like California even prohibit administrators from overwriting teachers' grades.
Teachers can usually decide how many points a particular assignment is worth, for example, and what counts as participation. They also have a say in how they apply their evaluation criteria - and who they give or not give the benefit of the doubt.
The results could have enormous consequences. Even before the pandemic, black children were 1.5 times more likely to be withheld than their white peers. Systemic racism was a key factor: color students have less access to classroom support, also because they are often in schools where economic resources are lacking. Their teachers also see them less often as college material.
Still, the pandemic has been a trial by fire in the art and science of virtual teaching. And many teachers say they are being pressured or directed by districts to keep assigning grades as they would during a normal school year.
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With this in mind, parents and advocates suggested that rising class failure rates were largely due to the unwillingness of school systems to adjust their expectations.
Reed Marshall wonders whether schools are providing adequate and timely support to their most vulnerable students. Did the school intervene as soon as a student got off track? Has it notified your supervisor? Most importantly, did the leaders ask why so many students fail?
"One of the ironies is that grading is such a high priority for students, but teachers receive virtually no grading training," Feldman said. And without this training, many educators “just repeat how they were taught” to grade.
Lake Nona High executives set about asking these questions and changing their expectations for both students and teachers. This is a big reason why many of the dozen or so cohort seniors have replaced their Fs with A's and B's. Understanding that these students may just have needed more structure, their teachers generally gave them time to complete assignments.
But each of the eight Lake Nona High seniors surveyed cited the former substitute teacher who heads the cohort - Patrice Pullen, who is herself a parent of students at the school - as the secret sauce that helped them get back on track.
When Lamar, who also works 30 hours a week in a fast food restaurant, recently missed his bus to school, he ran all the way from home to campus. Pullen, he said, gave him the "bit of motivation" that he needed.
Pullen not only gave them the structure they yearn for, but treated them with compassion.
And as Reed Marshall put it, "right now the name of the game is grace."
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID School: Online Classes Make Students Fail. Are grades important?

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