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More kids are failing than before the pandemic
Data from three major districts show a similar pattern: improvement, but not to pre-pandemic levels
It took awhile, but I have now received failing grade data from three different school districts — D.C. Everest, SPASH and Wausau. Of the three, Wausau’s took the longest, mostly because I was told from a source that the data would be presented at an upcoming school board meeting.
Instead of hard data, the presentation only included platitudes that things were improving. (And that presentation came later than I was initially told.) I was also told there was some board disappointment about the specific data not being shared. So I requested it, and now have that data.
Analysis isn’t particularly difficult. The pattern is the same across all three school districts, and it matches what I found when I looked at school report card data. (Which went from very easy to read and comprehensible to almost incomprehensible, for some incomprehensible reason.)
What’s the pattern? That failure rates massively increased during the pandemic, when distance learning was the norm and everyone had no idea what was going to happen next.
And like the report cards, failure rates improved since then; but the rates of failing have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
SPASH sent me its data of Ds and Fs going back to 2017-2018 school year. SPASH had some of the worst recovery, barely lower in 2022-23 than it was in 2020-2021.
Everest and Wausau fared better — Wausau’s last school year was just a bit above pre-pandemic levels. Everest’s is nowhere near its COVID spike but the rates of Ds and Fs are still a couple of points higher than the years preceding the pandemic.
All of these, it should be pointed out, are for junior high/high school students. Elementary grades are tougher to parse because of how their grading differs by district, I’m told.
One thing that emerged when The Wausonian first wrote about this during the pandemic was the disparities in outcomes. Students who were already doing well did fine during the periods of distance learning — those who were struggling did worse. That seemed to be reflected in the report card data and education experts with the district said the same thing.
Here are the various breakdowns:
They provided semester one and two, but I couldn’t get ChatGPT to code them as bars next to each other, so I took an average of the two instead. This is Ds and Fs combined:
Here is D.C. Everest’s (also Ds and Fs combined):
And then, here is Wausau’s data - this one is only Fs, so keep that in mind:
Clearly, there is much to do on this story. I just wanted to give readers an early look at the data I am working with. Though I specified failure rates, SPASH included both, and D.C. Everest gave Ds, Fs and combined. Wausau only gave failure rates.
But, I’m less interested in comparing between districts as I am the overall trend. And, like the report card data we looked at, the trend seems to be that the rates spiked during the pandemic when distance learning was the norm. Then things improved in subsequent semesters, but have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
And in the case of SPASH, failure rates have even hit a high, something I wasn’t expecting.
We’ll be digging into the why in later stories. I want to get administrator and educator perspectives on this. I want to hear what has been done to improve the situation, what has worked and what hasn’t. And, frankly, I want to know what is going on at SPASH.