I-TEAM: Local students’ grades suffer due to COVID-19

Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 6:18 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Consistency is a distant memory for most of our students. From virtual to hybrid to in-person learning, it’s tough to keep track of all the changes they’ve been juggling the past year.

While there continues to be a healthy dose of grace from most teachers and school districts, our I-Team found grades across the board are still plummeting.

Like a lot of you, Tamie Bartlett did not sign up to be a homeschool teacher.

“With online classes, they don’t have to be anywhere,” Tamie said. “They don’t want to mentally get up and start doing their school work.”

Each of her three kids have very different needs. Her youngest is special needs, her high schooler, we told you about Monday, has withdrawn from the world around him, and her middle schooler, is not interested in virtual school in the least.

“You’re in your room at your own computer,” Josiah Bartlett said. “It’s hard to concentrate on that specifically.”

“I would nag him. I would try to bribe him. I would ‘help him’ do his work because I was so afraid that he would fail and to help him do the work,” Tamie said.

Like most of our school districts, McDuffie County Schools’ schedule is anything but consistent with COVID -- a mix of virtual and in-person learning -- that changes as the case numbers change.

“If I wouldn’t have helped him and his brother wouldn’t have helped him the first nine weeks, he probably would have failed,” Tamie said

Josiah is certainly not alone. Students across the area are struggling.

The I-Team requested data from all our largest school districts. We focused on high school seniors since they are arguably the best equipped to learn virtually.

We found a staggering increase in the number of seniors failing at least one class at the end of the fall 2020 semester compared to seniors the year before the pandemic.

In Richmond County, data shows an 81 percent increase in seniors reporting a failing grade. In Columbia County, it was a 40 percent increase. In McDuffie County, it’s a 119 percent increase.

“Very difficult -- under the best circumstances,” Columbia County superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway said.

Carraway explained one glaring issue -- the hybrid model mimics collegiate level learning.

“They’re being asked to be independent learners, self-motivated, and sometimes self- teachers and it’s very hard for young people when they are not accustomed to that,” Carraway said. “That’s asking a lot of our 13 and 18-year-olds when many adults can’t even do that.”

The I-Team obtained a survey compiled by Columbia County schools to see what students were struggling with the most.

The number one answer as to why students didn’t attend class was “I didn’t feel like attending.” The number one reason students reported not turning in an assignment was “because they didn’t understand it.”

One student writing they missed “the positive learning environment that you can get in school.” Another response is “if I’m being honest, the hardest part is finding motivation.”

“Teachers are essential to the well being of children at every age,” Carraway said.

Which is a difficult layer to the problem. Those teachers are essential and more at-risk than students of having serious complications.

Just this week, an elementary school teacher with a history of asthma died after a COVID diagnosis. Did she contract it at school? School leaders can’t possibly know, but it’s a reminder that the weight of each decision is heavy.

“Making the decisions has been tough because not everyone agrees,” Carraway said. “We have two sides of belief that we should shut down altogether, that we should not shut down at all.”

This spring, our schools are bringing kids back. Sixty percent of kids are back in Richmond County. Eighty percent in Columbia.

Aiken’s maintaining a hybrid schedule, and McDuffie’s doing the same.

“Never was as stressful,” Tamie said. “I never had to beg him. I plead with him, do his work for him. I can’t take it anymore. You know they are in tears and it ruins my relationship with my kids.

Along with credit recovery programs like Columbia County is offering, colleges are waiving SAT and ACT requirements to seniors who graduate this year to help ease the burden of the learning divide.

Statement from the Richmond County School System

The Richmond County School System has support and resources available for all high school students. Teachers are the first resource for student success. Guidance counselors are available in all Richmond County high schools to assist students with academic progress, planning, and credit recovery. The school system also offers free tutoring services for all students to help families with homework and understanding current course content. Virtual and face-to-face learners have access to the same resources to help them succeed.

Statement from Aiken County School District

The Aiken County School District recently completed an analysis of all available student achievement indicators to examine student performance and growth comparing the 2019/20 school year (pre-pandemic) to the current 2020/2021 academic year. The analysis primarily focused on measures of reading and math ability which indicated that overall, students in grades K-10 entered school in late August at levels below the previous schools year with students in K-5 demonstrating greater gaps than those in grades 6-10. Kindergarten students demonstrated lower levels of kindergarten readiness compared to those entering in the Fall of 2019. When examining growth on measures of reading ability (Lexile) and Mathematics (Quantile) all grades groups have demonstrated growth from Fall to Winter. When comparing growth rates between the 19/20 and 20/21 school years, growth rates in elementary grades are lower than last year but the gap begins to level out in the middle and high school tested grades.

When examining differences in modality—Hybrid Face-to-Face learners, versus virtual learning only, results indicate that growth rates among solely virtual learners are lower than those students in F2F instruction.

Statement from the McDuffie County School District

The McDuffie County School System has long offered multiple options for secondary students to repair and recover credit for courses required for graduation. Credit repair in the form of extended semester make-up work through the web-based Edgenuity program is currently in session and concludes on Saturday, January 30. In addition, students may elect to re-take a course in self-paced web-based evening school or summer school opportunities or in a teacher-led, face-to-face manner during the second semester of the school year. Supplemental after school teacher-directed tutoring is also being provided to students in grade K-12 as an additional measure to mitigate learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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