Online Learning Tanked Grades, Learning in VA’s Largest School System, Study Finds

By Mary Margaret Olohan Published on November 25, 2020

Virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic is tanking academic achievement in the largest school system in Virginia, a study from Fairfax County Public School published this week found.

“Results indicate a widening gap between students who were previously performing satisfactorily and those performing unsatisfactorily,” the report said. “Students who performed well previously primarily performed slightly better than expected during [Quarter 1] of this year.”

“In contrast, students who were previously not performing well, performed considerably less well,” the report continued.

The percentage of F’s that middle school and high school students earned jumped to 11% from 6%, the study found, reflecting an increase of 83% from 2019 to 2020. The study also found that middle schoolers had a 300% increase in F’s while high schoolers only had a 50% increase in F’s, showing that younger students were affected more than older students.

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Students with disabilities and those learning English struggled the most, the study found. Students with disabilities saw an increase of 111% accounting for almost 20% of all their grades, according to the study.

For students learning English, the percentage of F’s rose 106%, accounting for 35% of all their grades, the study found.

“The pattern was pervasive across all student groups, grade levels, and content areas,” the study said. “The trend of more failing marks is concerning across the board but is especially concerning for the groups that showed the biggest unpredicted increases … namely our English learner students and students with disabilities.”
Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement that the school system is working quickly to help repair the damage done to students’ learning, adding that many students who were doing well academically before the pandemic hit are still doing well, while others “who previously struggled in school … continue to do so.”

“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,” Braband added.


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