This is a problem that I don’t think we’re prepared to deal with.
Students across Greater Houston failed classes at unprecendented rates in the first marking period, with some districts reporting nearly half of their middle and high schoolers received at least two F grades because they routinely missed classes or neglected assignments.
The percentage of students failing at least one class has doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in several of the region’s largest school districts, education administrators reported in recent days, a reflection of the massive upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
If those trends keep up, districts expect to see a decline in graduation rates, an increase in summer school demand and a need for intensive support to accommodate students falling behind, among numerous other consequences.
“Our internal failure rates — not (standardized) tests, just our teachers teaching, grading, assessing kids — are like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers, who reported nearly half of his students failed at least one class to start the school year.
“I’ve told our teachers to use the same professional judgment you’ve always used, but I don’t want our standards lowered. We’re not creating these false narratives that you’re doing OK and let someone move on without being competent in the area we’re teaching.”
The failure rates illustrate the monumental challenge faced by students, families and school districts trying to navigate the pandemic while remaining engaged in learning.
Local education leaders are hopeful the performance trend reverses before the end of the first semester, when high school students’ grades become official for transcript purposes. They noted more students are returning to in-person classes or growing comfortable with completing work online.
If failure rates remain high, however, the impact could be long-lasting for students and districts.
Educators fear the pandemic will widen graduation and college acceptance disparities between children from lower-income and higher-income families. Districts in less affluent areas of Houston generally saw more students remain in online classes, where failing grades were more prevalent.
“We’re going to have to be mapping things out for how to use every minute of remediation, thinking about a two- to three-year span for getting kids back on course,” Aldine Chief Academic Officer Todd Davis said.
Districts could add summer school courses in the coming years to help students make up for failing grades, but the cost of those programs already worries some school leaders. Texas legislators and education officials have not pledged to allocate additional funding for summer school ahead of next year’s legislative session.
“Those extra courses that students normally take — for us, it’s called ‘credit recovery’ — that we pay for now, we would have to start charging for services,” Lathan said. “I know some school districts do it now, but based on our district, it’s hard to charge.”
Chambers, the Alief ISD superintendent, said high failure rates also could upend staffing schedules in some schools, requiring more sessions of courses that students must pass to graduate.
“We’re going to have to probably double staff algebra classes and all those freshman courses, because we’re going to have twice as many kids that failed or didn’t complete the course,” Chambers said.
I’ve left a lot out, so go read the whole thing. Maybe things will get a little better as more students acclimate to remote learning, and others go back to the classroom. But unless it more or less entirely reverses, we’re going to be left with the choice of spending a lot of money to get these kids back up to grade level, so they can graduate and hope to lead lives that aren’t economically compromised, or we can just let them fail and leave it to our kids and future selves to deal with the consequences. I know what I’d want to do, but I don’t know that I expect Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick to be with me. What is clear is that this is our choice. The Trib has more.