CPS students getting more A’s — but also more F’s as remote learning continues

District officials say they worry they’ll “lose a generation of students” if they can’t return to in-person learning soon.

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CPS said grades have dropped between the first quarter of 2019-20 and 2020-21

Sun-Times staff photo

Racial gaps in the rates at which failing grades are handed out to Chicago Public Schools students have widened this school year even as children across the board have received both more A’s and more F’s than they had this time last year, according to new data released by the school system Wednesday.

CPS officials, who are typically keen to avoid publicizing data that would embarrass the district or show a lack of student progress, used their findings to highlight the growing inequities caused by remote learning as they make their case for reopening schools during the pandemic.

In general, educators have said Black and Latino students, children in special education and those who are homeless and come from low-income backgrounds have had the most barriers to success without in-person learning because of systemic failures such as poor access to computers and internet, an inability to remotely support kids with disabilities and a lack of face-to-face interaction with teachers. Middle-class families, generally speaking, have been more likely to have access to the resources needed to make remote learning viable.

“I worry that unless we act with urgency, we will lose a generation of students,” Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade told the city’s Board of Education at its virtual meeting Wednesday. “The way to avoid this is to follow the public health guidance so we can safely reopen schools.”

In elementary schools, 5% of the reading grades handed out in the first academic quarter were F’s compared to 1.9% in the first quarter last year, with similar figures in math, district records show. On the other end of the scale, A’s made up 34% of reading grades, up from 30.8% last year. Math scores were similar. There were fewer B’s and C’s in both subjects, and students of all races saw increases at both ends of the scale.

Black and Latino elementary students, however, suffered the largest increases in F’s in both reading and math, and did not see nearly the same increases in A’s as white and Asian American children, expanding an already wide gap.

A grades accounted for 60.2% of math grades and 59.2% of reading grades handed out to white elementary students in the first quarter, while A’s made up 24% of the math scores and 23.1% of the reading grades Black students received. White children’s A’s increased by six to seven percentage points since last year while the number of A’s Black students’ received went up by three percentage points.

The district’s 3,723 elementary students who are homeless received F’s at a much higher rate and A’s at less than half the rate of their peers.

Similar trends emerged in high school grades, too.

The district also saw a 2.9% drop in attendance in the first academic quarter compared to last year, again largely falling along racial lines. There was a 5% drop among Black students and 2.4% drop among Latino students, who combined make up 83% of the district. White and Asian American children have actually had slightly better attendance than last year. Homeless children’s attendance fell 7.3% among homeless children and 4.8% among special education students.

“This is a matter of equity, and it’s at the core of everything that we do in Chicago Public Schools,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said.

“The shift here is allowing for multiple options for all of our parents,” Jackson said, referring to plans announced this week to reopen schools to some children in January and all elementary students in February.

“Any parent who wants to remain in the remote environment will have the ability to do so. But beginning in January, those parents who need an opportunity or an option for their students to be educated in person will now have a choice.”

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates attributed the grading and attendance disparities to poorly constructed virtual schedules that try to emulate a regular, in-person school and the fact that communities of color have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. She wants to see improvements to remote learning and a more comprehensive plan — with input from more stakeholders — to reopen schools when it’s safe.

“Black and Latinx families are literally fighting for their survival,” Davis Gates said. “Is it any wonder that our children are having a tough time with school?”

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