June 18, 2021

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Skillful education crafters

New Virginia study finds online schooling is severely damaging students’ academic achievement

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A new study conducted by Virginia’s largest school system found that distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic is severely damaging academic achievement.

What are the details?

In comparison to the last academic year, the percentage of middle school and high school students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools receiving marks of “F” in two or more classes during the first quarter of this academic year rose from 6{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} to 11{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1}, the district’s Office of Research and Strategic Improvement found. The numbers represent a year-over-year increase of 83{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1}.

Younger students were much more seriously affected than older ones, as middle-schoolers exhibited a 300{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} increase in marks of “F,” while high schoolers exhibited a 50{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} increase.

The study also found that some of the most vulnerable students — those with disabilities and English-language learners — were the ones who have been struggling the most.

The number of students with disabilities who scored marks of “F” in two or more classes shot up by 111{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} to account for nearly one-fifth of those students, while the number of English-language learners who scored marks of “F” increased by 106{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} to account for 35{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of those students.

While students in certain demographics exhibited more pronounced increases than others, the study found that “the pattern was pervasive across all student groups, grade levels, and content areas examined in this report.”

What else?

In a summary of the findings, district researchers acknowledged that “there is reason for concern,” especially considering that students who were previously not performing well were the ones who were having the hardest time.

“Results indicate a widening gap between students who were previously performing satisfactorily and those performing unsatisfactorily,” the report noted. “In other words, students who performed well previously primarily performed slightly better than expected during Q1 of this year. In contrast, students who were previously not performing well, performed considerably less well. A greater proportion of low-performing students received failing grades during Q1 than would have been expected based on patterns of marks in prior years.”

In a statement to the Washington Post, the school system’s superintendent, Scott Brabrand, said they are working quickly to identify and aid the students who are struggling the most.

“We are working on identifying these students by name and by need and are working on specific interventions to support them right now and as we phase back in person,” he said.

Despite the obvious damage being inflicted on students’ academic achievement, the school system has halted plans to return to in-person classes until at least Nov. 30 due to a surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

Brabrand, however, vowed during a recent town hall that he has every intention of returning to in-person activities as soon as possible.

“We are committed to returning our kids to in-person. There will be some setbacks. There will be some pauses. I cannot promise you that it will be linear,” he said.