Today’s Washington Post article, Failing grades double and triple — some rising sixfold — amid pandemic learning is one of the most depressing articles any educator is going to read this year.

In addition to the textbox above, here’s another excerpt:

In Montgomery, a diverse system of more than 161,000 students, Black and Hispanic students from families at or near the poverty line were among the most severely affected groups, along with English language learners.

This brings up two (and probably many more) key issues.



One is the topic I coincidentally brought up this morning with our own school’s leadership and, which to a large extent, is beyond the control of most teachers or individual schools.

I can probably count on one hand the number of F grades I have given during my seventeen year high school career.

If a student even just shows up for class now-and-then, I am usually – with a lot of work – able to develop a solid enough of a relationship with him/her and his/her parents to coax him to do enough work to pass.

So the only students who I fail are the ones who literally never show-up.

This year, however, is a completely different world.

Ten percent of the students in my classes have never signed-in for a Zoom class.  I’ve never been able to actually talk to them, or to their parents – no matter how many times I’ve called.   Our extraordinary school support staff have been able to find two-or-three of them at home in unannounced home visits, and in those situations the students are working full-time to help support their families and don’t feel like they can attend school.

Some of those students are ones who I have actually had in previous years, and who I had been able to coax over the finish line.  Most I have never met.

So, yes, it’s likely that I will give twice as many F’s this semester than I have given in the previous seventeen years.

And I’m obviously not alone in this situation.

Perhaps, with new federal stimulus funds and the new Biden administration policies, economic times will get better, districts will get more financial support and use it wisely (always a big question) and provide additional social service support for these “disappeared.”

Maybe we’ll get them back next school year, and we’ll all have both funds and good district leadership that will provide extra support and personalized tutoring for these students next year.

Or, in my most pessimistic moments, I fear that we’ll lose them forever.



Now, this area is one that is within the control of both individual teachers and individual schools.

It’s one thing to fail a student who never shows-up.  That’s a terrible situation for a student, and a teacher in that situation has their hands tied.

It’s an entirely different situation if a student is showing up regularly or semi-regularly to a Zoom class in a pandemic,  is trying hard or semi-hard, and that student is given an F.

Some might think I’m speaking too harshly, but I would say giving an F to a student in that situation is an immoral act.

They might not understand all the material, and they may not demonstrate mastery of certain skills, but it’s not their fault that they might not have the support at home they need, or might not be able to get the kind of extra support they would ordinarily get at a school during normal times.

I say we pass them and – whether schools get the extra resources we need or not next year – we differentiate for how ever long it takes in future years to bring them up to speed.

And we fight like hell to get those extra resources – tutoring, social service support, professional development, after-school activities, etc.

I don’t know nationally – or even in our own district – what percentage of F’s are total no-shows and what percentage are in this second category, but it seems to me we teachers – and our administrators – need to figure out that quickly.

And then do something about it.