The first term of the 2020-2021 school year has seen more kids receiving F grades than ever
According to reporting from The Washington Post, more kids than ever were on the receiving end of F grades for the first part of the 2020-2021 school year. During what could only be called an unprecedented turn of events brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, students are clearly struggling to keep up with the demands of academia. It’s no wonder — whether attending in-person school or virtual, this school year has been like no other.
Coming off the heels of the 2019-2020 school year that saw an abrupt end to in-person instruction nationwide, the new school year came with several question marks for parents all over the United States. Would schools offer in-person instruction or virtual? Or a combination of both? How would schools, many in buildings too old to have proper ventilation and space to distance students in the safest way possible, adjust to our new reality? How would students fare when forced to learn in ways they never had before? We’re starting to see things more clearly as experts parse through the numbers after the first few months of the school year, and the answers? Not great.
As The Washington Post wonders, is it even fair to dole out failing grades to kids this year as they grapple with changes that many adults are barely coping with? These kids haven’t had a “normal” life in close to a year now. It’s taking a toll. I am seeing it daily in my own middle school children, who are doing school virtually and desperately miss their friends, sports teams, music lessons, and social life. How on earth can we expect these kids to maintain the status quo with their grades when their lives have been entirely upended?
As The Post points out, many schools, including the one my own kids attend, opted not to give letter grades at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, instead giving out pass/fail grades. This felt fair and reasonable considering what students and teachers had been tasked with — revamping nearly everything about how learning happens while kids and their families coped with various traumas including job loss, illness, and the deaths of loved ones. In no decent, loving society would children be subjected to A-F grades when people are barely hanging on.
And here we are, several months later, and the coronavirus is not only still here — it’s worse than ever. Almost every day the U.S. marks grim new milestones with the number sick or dead. People are still unemployed. The federal government has yet to send out new stimulus checks and families are staring down evictions or loss of unemployment benefits as 2020 draws to a close.
So why are we still giving out F’s to kids in school whose families are dealing with any number of life changes that might make it harder for a child to focus and succeed academically? That’s not even to say what personal events might be causing a child’s school performance to decline — depression, anxiety, and loneliness are very real side effects of the pandemic for both kids and adults. The isolation so many are facing is taking a very real toll. Again, why are we doing letter grades right now?
The Washington Post cites a number of stories from around the country of kids in dire academic straits, so clearly, this isn’t isolated to one school or one county or even one state. This issue is universal and heartbreaking. Citing concerns such as colleges not accepting pass/fail grades on applicants’ transcripts and students possibly being disincentivized to try harder, the A-F grades reappeared this school year. But what if, as Jessyca Matthews, a high school English teacher in Flint, Michigan wonders, we looked at this school year differently? “If I had a choice, this year would have been a growth year,” she says. “No grades, but a focus on mental health, cultivation of new interest in education, and thinking of ways to reach out and uplift kids. If that could have happened, maybe even for the first semester, that would have been wonderful.”
I am 100 percent with her, and as I struggle to find ways to keep my middle schoolers engaged, mentally healthy, happy, and motivated, I wish this is what their school would’ve done. These kids are hurting and it’s on us adults to help them through something none of us have ever been through either. It’s a time for compassion, not competition.