FCPS students failing classes at a rising rate

Saying that Covid-19 has changed our lives is an understatement. It has changed everything, from simple day-to-day habits to monumental events. Online school is one of the more striking examples of the new reality we’ve had to adapt to and the difficulties that come with it.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), Virginia’s largest county with its 186,000 students, recently released a study regarding the drop in academic performance the pandemic has caused. The results confirmed online learning has caused a severe drop of grades, and students learning English and students with disabilities are the most affected.

According to the study, there was an 83% increase of high school and middle school students with an F in two or more classes, from 6% last year to 11% this year. There was a total 111% increase in students with disabilities and 106% increase in English learner students.

The analysis also shows that middle school students have been struggling more than high school students. There was a 300% increase in middle school students, and of middle school students, a 400% increase in both Hispanics and students with disabilities, a 383% increase in English learners and a 375% increase in economically disadvantaged students.

There are many reasons for the drop, as Covid-19 has greatly impacted the home life of many students. Additionally, for many, online learning is just generally difficult.

“In online school, you’re more restricted than being in person. For me, I like to learn where I can see the teacher and be in an actual class,” freshman John Rojas Leniz said. “There are also technical problems that sometimes happen which sometimes gets annoying.”

Last spring, assignments weren’t graded, and could only improve your grade. However, this fall, FCPS kept the grading system to as close to normal as possible, except with a rolling gradebook.

However, that decision has had negative consequences as the study has shown. A large gap in academic performance has occurred, mostly based on socioeconomic status, race, and English speaking skills.

Students who perform well in school continue to do so and students who normally struggle in school continue to do so, though much more significantly. Experts say that the damage done to students with few resources is irreparable and the only solution is a new start.

FCPS, which has been mainly online since March, is fighting this gap by advising teachers to be more flexible with due dates, forgiving when grading and to provide many retakes for tests and opportunities to redo assignments in hopes of helping students bring up their grades. However, this may not be enough, as many students are still failing.

“I think that online learning requires a level of self-discipline and accountability in order to be effective,” English teacher Ana Dillon said. “I don’t think it is an easy way to learn.”

Virginia schools are debating whether or not to reopen, as they hope this may help. FCPS has gradually returned several thousand students back to in-person school, prioritizing students with disabilities, English learning students, and very young students, but halted adding any new groups last month, when cases in the Washington area increased. Many think that students back in person would receive the individualized help they need, something that has been difficult online. However, with cases on the rise, the decision has become even harder.

Overall, online learning has been difficult for teachers and students alike. Both have been feeling the physical and mental effects, and noticed the consequences it’s had on grades. Nevertheless, it is the reality we face and must deal with.