Failing Grades Are 'Off the Rails' This Year

Teachers say it may have been too soon to bring back the A-F system
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2020 12:51 PM CST
Failing Grades Are 'Off the Rails' This Year
Pinon High School science teacher James Gustafson teaches virtually from his empty classroom in Pinon, Ariz., on Sept. 24, 2020.   (Megan Marples/Cronkite News via AP)

(Newser) – This is a school year like no other—and students are getting failing grades like never before. With students still learning from home in many areas, districts around the country are reporting a massive increase in F grades, with disadvantaged students falling furthest behind. At McNary High School in Keizer, Oregon, some 38% of grades in late October were Fs, compared to 8% in a normal year. "It was completely off the rails from what is normal for us, and that was obviously very alarming," principal Erik Jespersen tells the AP. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post says the massive spike in failing grades is no surprise. "Anxiety among students is exploding, as is depression and loneliness and trauma, according to health officials and students themselves," she writes.

Teachers say many students are skipping assignments or struggling with limited internet access—and remote learning has made it much harder to detect which students need extra assistance. Some educators argue that schools should stick to the pass-fail system introduced during spring lockdowns instead of returning to the A-F system so soon. Some districts have introduced a policy in which the lowest score possible for assignments is 50 out of 100. "I think A-F grades are questionable even during non-pandemic times but absolutely pointless right now," Justin Parmenter, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Charlotte, NC, tells the Post. "When a student’s ability to access instruction depends on what kind of internet signal they have, it’s a huge equity issue." (Read more education stories.)

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