Pandemic hurts academic performance

LT sees increase in failing grades, school works to close achievement gap

Lillie George & Brianna Fonseca, News Editors

In past years,  a gap in academic achievement among students, as reported by LION last year. This issue, along with an increase in first semester failing grades due to the challenges of remote learning, have been brought to light amid the unusual circumstances of this school year.

Though numbers decreased from a total of 8% of students failing at the quarter to 3% at the end of first semester, the school saw the highest amount of failing grades it’s had in the past five years, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Scott Eggerding said.

“In talking with teachers and looking at gradebooks, the bulk of the bad grades are pandemic-related,” Eggerding said. “With the change to the grading practices, we had more opportunities to do makeup work and turn in work late; there were a lot of chances for students to find their way back and earn a passing grade. Most of the issues centered around kids not being able to connect to online learning.”

For many students, the circumstances of Zoom have made it difficult to be fully engaged, world history teacher Maria Ricker said. Even if students have their cameras on and are following along, it is impossible to engage with peers, teachers and schoolwork in the same way. 

Changes to the grading system this year have included the addition of a “W” on report cards, signifying that a student has to retake the course but does not receive a failing grade, Eggerding said. Furthermore, the school has worked to implement more opportunities for students to retake assessments and turn in late work, discounting homework from final grade calculations.

“If you read the research specifically on homework as a grading practice, the completion of homework historically negatively impacts students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and minority students,” principal Brian Waterman said. 

After analyzing the data, the administration found that two students with identical academic abilities were on two different paths because of parent advocacy, Waterman said. LT’s Equity and Achievement team, developed to help these students, is centered around two main principles: advocating for students who may not have that support from their parents, and supporting and providing training to teachers on topics such as visible learning, the poverty framework and formative assessment.

Since 2014, the Equity and Achievement Team has allowed counselors and social workers to guide students throughout their four years, Ricker said. Each year, there have been more and more students signing up to this entirely anonymous program. 

“If a student has access to everything that every other student has access to, then they have every opportunity to be successful,” Waterman said. “I believe there’s a direct correlation between the access to higher level courses and higher standardized test scores. If we’re able to give students the opportunity to participate in advanced placement classes, then they’ll be more prepared for standardized tests and better equipped for success.”

In general, the achievement gap could be described as the disproportionate rate at which minorities and people of color are not succeeding at the same rate and level as their white peers, Natalia Madrigal ‘21 said. White students, specifically, tend to automatically be placed in high level courses and have more resources and support systems to ensure their success.