A new study of Fairfax County students' grades shows a growing divide between two extremes. Students who had high grades before the pandemic are doing even better than expected, while students who were already struggling are now doing worse.
While some students are thriving, there are significantly more failing grades during distance learning compared to last year, the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) report found.
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"We are seeing slips in all my kids' grades, interestingly," said Megan Jaster, who has a son in special education. She says distance learning has been more difficult for him than her other kids.
"I've had to quit work just to sit by him and help him access anything that is up on the computer," Jaster said.
The research shows Jaster's situation is common throughout Fairfax County.
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Students with 2 or more failing grades during the first quarter last year are failing even more classes this year – up to 83% across all students.
Failing grades for English language learners are up 106%. Students in special education are struggling the most, with failing grades increasing by 111%.
"When things get hard, a lot of these kids who struggle anyway just give up very easily," Jaster said. "I find my special needs kid, if I step away, will just not engage anymore."
Other parents have noticed their kids excelling during distance learning. In fact, the study found the majority of Fairfax County students are doing slightly better than expected.
Diane Cooper-Gould is one of those parents. She says her kids have been doing "really well in terms of grades" this school year.
Overall, 61% of students in high school and middle school are overperforming in English and 65% are overperforming in math, compared to what FCPS was expecting.
FCPS says there's reason for concern because the results of the report "indicate a widening gap between students who were previously performing satisfactorily and those performing unsatisfactorily."
Superintendent Scott Brabrand says FCPS is now identifying the students doing much worse than expected and working on specific interventions to help them.
Cooper-Gould said, "It's my feeling that this is something we're going to have to address as a society, not just one school system."