During the COVID-19 pandemic this past fall, secondary students in USD 232 in De Soto who learned remotely earned F grades at a higher rate than their peers who were learning partially on-site each week in hybrid mode, according to district data.
Overall, the total number of middle and high school students earning at least one failing grade increased 50% in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019.
The data was presented by Superintendent Frank Harwood to the USD 232 Board of Education earlier this week.
Harwood said the pandemic has taken a physical, social-emotional and educational toll on students and staff this year, but he also noted that the number of students with Fs in the fall decreased from the first quarter to the second, a trend attributed to students and teachers working together to improve grades amid the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
Breaking the numbers down
This past fall, 319 of the district’s roughly 2,300 high schoolers chose to learn remotely all semester. Of those 319 students, 13% — or 43 students — had an F grade in at least one class at the end of the first semester in January.
Meanwhile, of the 1,988 high schoolers who chose hybrid learning, meaning they learned on-site part of the time each week, about 9% — or 197 students — earned at least one F grade.
In total, 240 high school students in the DeSoto district earned an F grade at the end of the fall 2020 semester, compared to 161 in fall 2019, a 50% increase in total students.
The trends looked much starker at the end of the first quarter, just a few weeks into learning during the pandemic, but improved over the latter half of the fall semester.
At the end of the first quarter in early November, nearly 17% of high schoolers — 389 students, in all — had at least one failing grade. But a good number, nearly 40% of them, managed to raise their Fs to passing grades by the end of the semester in mid-January.
Below is a chart of D and F grades as presented at the board of education meeting:
Trends in middle school
If anything, the trends appeared more pronounced for middle schoolers.
Of the middle school students who chose to learn remotely in the fall semester, nearly 16% had an F grade at semester. Of the students who chose hybrid learning, roughly 8% had an F grade.
Harwood said there are pros and cons to all learning environments, especially when considering the physical, social-emotional and educational tolls on students and staff during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hybrid is the best and worst of both on-site and remote, and it’s better for some people and not as good for others,” Harwood said. “One of the things we’ve talked about from the beginning is that some students in the hybrid and remote models actually are doing much better, while others are not doing as well.”
Harwood said there are probably more high school students who improved over the semester than middle school students, and some of that could be a direct result of the unique challenges facing the district during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re asking sixth graders to do some things that maybe sixth graders aren’t ready to do,” he added.
Meanwhile, D grades overall also increased over the course of the semester as F grades decreased from first quarter to second.
An increase in Ds is not necessarily bad news, Harwood added, noting that this is typical as students and teachers work together to improve grades to passing levels. Subsequently, some D grades in the first quarter also improved to C or higher grades.
Academic recovery efforts: Harwood said the district has federal funds to address academic recovery for students.
He added that USD 232 received about $665,000 in CARES Act funds to assist students with catching up on their grades. The funding could support things like summer school and after-school programming.