Almost a third of all grades issued by Long Beach Unified teachers in the first quarter of this school year were D’s or F’s, a massive jump compared to the previous year, according to LBUSD data.

In the first quarter of the 2019-20 school year, just 13.61% of LBUSD-issued grades were a D or an F. That number rose to 31.75% in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year.

The massive spike in failing marks coincides with the district’s first grading period under distance learning. It issued only pass/fail grades in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first forced classes online.

While this semester of grades won’t be finalized for another two weeks, the snapshot of progress report data obtained by the Long Beach Post provides the first public view of how local students’ grades are faring during campus closures triggered by the coronavirus.

“Like other school districts, we have seen some increase in D’s and F’s compared to the prior year,” LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou said. “We’re also seeing some improvement in that regard since the quarter ended.”

In the few weeks since the first quarter ended, the district’s D and F percentage trended down to 27.86%.

The overall slip in grades is not just from C-average students who are doing worse. There’s been a massive loss in high-achieving grades as well. In the first quarter of the last school year, 47.10% of LBUSD grades were A’s. That slipped to 37.17% this year and fell even further to 29.76% a few weeks after the first quarter ended.

The percentage of grades issued through the first quarter of the school year and through Jan. 6, 2021. Source: LBUSD.

The LBUSD is not alone. Study after study across the country has found that students are struggling with distance learning, with failing grades spiking wherever school campuses are closed.

Emotional health has also suffered, with the CDC reporting a 44% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits by children, year over year.

Grading guidelines

It’s clear from the district’s actions over the previous 10 months that this is a problem officials anticipated. In the spring, the district embraced a “do no harm” philosophy that meant no report cards for elementary students, and pass/fail or credit/no credit grades for students in sixth through 12th grade.

And in November, the LBUSD produced a “Grading for Equity” guideline that encouraged its teachers to answer the question “How do grading practices need to differ in a distance learning environment?”

Among the suggestions were responding to “students’ needs sensitively and flexibly” using methods including “soft deadlines,” allowing students to retake tests or resubmit work, not assigning points for attendance and not grading homework.

Summer school

The massive spike in failing grades will require an investment in summer school and other programs to allow students to make up classes, LBUSD superintendent Jill Baker said in a recent Q&A with the Post.

“We are thinking at each level about a different kind of learning experience in the summer to help them recover,” she said. “There will be opportunities for our high school students to take a lot more courses (than are traditionally offered).”

Disproportionate impact

The LBUSD’s grades data provided to the Post was not segmented by economic status, but studies across the state and nation have shown that the increase in failing grades has been exacerbated by the disproportionate harm that distance learning has done to lower-income students. Lack of quality internet and quiet learning spaces are among the many challenges facing less-wealthy students.

That disproportionate impact has prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District to implement a “no-fail” policy that will extend into the next semester.