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Scores of students are getting F’s: What’s the point of failing them during COVID-19?

Alia Wong, USA TODAY |

It wasn’t until several weeks ago that Christopher Lamar discovered he was failing most of his classes.

Lamar, an 18-year-old senior at Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Florida, had always enjoyed being a student. He ran for homecoming; he started a spirit club. Things changed once classes went online this year. Lamar had to watch and cook for his siblings, to clean and manage the household. School fell to the bottom of his priority list. 

When Lamar’s guidance counselor informed him his mid-semester progress report was riddled with F’s, it hit him: Not only was he flunking science, a subject in which he once excelled, he was also facing the prospect of being denied a diploma in the spring. 

Lamar has had his sights on being a firefighter for as long as he can remember, and if he doesn’t graduate, he realized, that goal could end up being nothing more than a faded dream. 

Lamar is one of roughly a dozen Lake Nona High seniors who earlier this fall were failing a majority – if not all – of their classes amid distance learning. These seniors elected to finish their semester online, but on campus: in a portable classroom with the help of a dedicated teacher. Like Lamar, many of them were preoccupied with domestic responsibilities; some just couldn’t find their groove with virtual classes. And like Lamar, all of the students are getting back on track.

Nationally, students whose grades are plummeting, including seniors whose graduation prospects are at stake, may not have the chance to recover. 

While a recent Rand Corp. study found just 6 in 10 U.S. teachers are assigning letter grades this fall, that rate is nearly double what it was in this past spring. Class failure rates have surged in districts across the country, from Virginia to Hawaii. 

And those F’s tend to be concentrated among low-income students of color, data indicate, as well as those who are still learning to speak English or have disabilities. 

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