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DATA: Houston-area school districts see troubling failure rates for first grading period

HOUSTON – Students statewide are struggling to make the grade while attending school from home during the pandemic. 

No matter the school district, failure rates for the first grading period, among those learning virtually, are much higher than failure rates during the same period last year, according to an analysis of data conducted by KPRC 2.

After reporting 42% of students enrolled in Houston Independent School District failed at least one course during the first six weeks of the school year, KPRC 2 sent requests to 10 Houston-area school districts for failure rates among virtual students vs in-person students. 

Four school districts responded with relevant data on Wednesday. According to the data, HISD isn’t alone in its quest to quell a problem education experts warn will linger.

As more requests are fulfilled, KPRC 2 will continue to update the data provided:

Houston Independent School District

While the Houston Independent School District is Texas’ largest school district, it’s far from alone in documenting problems associated with virtual learning. 

In a statement on Wednesday, HISD reiterated the 42% figure, while confirming 26% of enrolled students failed at least one course during the same period last year.  Last year, the first marking period accounted for nine weeks of the year.

“The most notable difference between last year and this year is the virtual education component implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person instruction is the preferred method as it typically produces a better educational outcome,” HISD’s Press Office wrote in a statement to KPRC 2.

HISD conducted courses online exclusively through Oct. 19.

“It is up to parents to decide if their children should return for face-to-face instruction or continue learning virtually at home,” the district wrote in the statement.

Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District

Forty-four percent of high school students enrolled in virtual learning failed at least one course during the first grading period, data released by Cy-Fair ISD confirmed. Thirty-eight percent of middle school students learning virtually failed at least one course, according to the data.

That’s compared to 33% and 24%, respectively, for students enrolled in in-person learning for the first grading period.

Aldine Independent School District

The first report card failure rate for students enrolled in virtual learning for Aldine ISD stands at 45%, according to data released by the school district.  That’s compared to 18.49% during the same period last year.

Thirty-six percent of students enrolled for in-person learning, during the first grading period of the 2020-21 school year, failed at least one course, data showed.

Fort Bend Independent School District

A smaller percentage of students failed at least one course during the first grading period within Fort Bend ISD.  That rate sits at 21%, according to the school district.  That’s compared to 13 percent during the same period last year.

Experts: no easy feat in slowing the ‘COVID slide’

There isn’t one answer to solving the problem the pandemic has created within the education system, policy experts said. Moreover, the process of progression likely will take years – despite the cognitive requirements children need in order to progress according to their age group.

“This has been a major disruption,” said Dr. Duncan Klussmann, clinical assistant professor for educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Houston.

Prior to joining the faculty of UH, Klussmann spent 11 years as superintendent of Spring Branch ISD.

“When you see failure rates this high, I think the key is to break down the information. See what’s driving the failure rate,” Dr. Klussmann stressed, adding there are multiple drivers.

That creates a complex thread of factors that must be addressed, said Dr. Patricia Hoffman-Miller, an associate professor of educational leadership at the Whitlowe R. Green College of Education at Prairie View A&M University.

Virtual learning doesn’t make grasping new concepts easy, according to Miller – and that’s natural.

“Children are emotional learners. I like to refer to it as the ‘COVID Slide.’ They require that there is engagement between the teachers, the schools, the classrooms,” Miller said.

Part of the fix, for now, educational policy experts agreed, is rethinking how to teach students who can’t physically return to the classroom. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. 

Dr. Tyrone Tanner, a professor of educational leadership and executive director of Prairie View A&M University/Northwest Houston Center, said teachers are hard-pressed.  Many of them are required to pull double duty – teaching both virtual and in-person learning consecutively.

“The idea of trying to merge these two roles, very different roles, is an unrealistic task,” Dr. Tanner warned.