Virtual 'Learning'? Failing Grades Have Spiked 83 Percent In Virginia's Largest School System

Brittany M. Hughes | November 24, 2020
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The number of students being given failing grades in Fairfax County Public Schools has skyrocketed a stunning 83 percent since online learning took effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington Post reports the percentage of failing grades given to middle and high school students in Virginia’s largest school district, which serves some 189,000 kids, jumped from 6 percent to 11 percent across all grades, according to a yearly comparison study conducted by the school system’s Office of Research and Strategic Improvement. Broken down, the number of F's shot up 300 percent among middle schoolers and 50 percent among high school students when compared to the same time frame in 2019.

While students across the board had suffered since the school adopted a virtual learning model due to COVID, the greatest disparity has been among students with learning disabilities - who saw a 111 percent increase in F’s - and among English language learners, whose failing grades increased 106 percent. Overall, 20 percent of disabled students and 35 percent of ESL students have been given failing marks since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

The study also found that while Hispanic and Black students saw the highest increase in failing grades, “The pattern was pervasive across all student groups, grade levels, and content areas,” including among white and Asian students. According to the findings, the likelihood of a student passing an English class plummeted by 40 percent this year, while their likelihood of passing math dropped by 30 percent.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced their decision to open in a completely virtual environment at the beginning of the academic year, a controversial decision met with pushback from many local parents who pointed out that virtual learning couldn't be achieved at the same level as in-person instruction, particularly among students with learning disabilities or who need extra help in the classroom. At the time, the school district blamed inadequate testing strategies and high teacher call-out rates for the move, promising to "phase in" in-person learning over time.

The school system eventually began opening to some students with a hybrid learning model, but recently scaled some schools back to total virtual learning due to a spike in local COVID cases, despite the fact that the virus isn’t known to heavily impact children and young adults.