San Jose Unified sees slight dip in grades as some students struggle with virtual learning

Distance learning is a challenge for most students perhaps, but a disaster for some.

The mother of an 8th grader who's son attends a middle school in the San Jose Unified School District said her child's grades have dropped significantly.  

"Two F's, a D, a C. I think two B's. This is a child who normally receives all A's and B's," the woman said, who asked not to be identified. 

Those are progress reports, not final grades. But she said other parents have complained.

"The method of learning needs to be adjusted. It's just not working. It's a failure," she said.

A spokeswoman for the district says the failure rate so far has increased slightly compared to pre-COVID times, and that the district is reaching out to struggling students to find ways to help them improve.

But some schools, such as Madison Park Academy, a 6th through 8th grade school in East Oakland, are finding some students have shown improvement with distance learning.

"I've seen students in this virtual world that did not perform well only to do better virtually. Because they don't influence thieir classmates," said principal Lucinda Taylor.

She says grades are tied to the students' ability to meet state performance standards.

"We pull out those major standards and make sure students are competent in those grade-level standards. They call that standard space grading," she said.

Educators say a lot of factors can contribute to academic struggles during a pandemic, from difficulties at home, restlessness, or computer problems.

"There is the teacher-student interaction that can affect grades, family to student interaction that sets up the environment as being conducive. And there is the student. Their decision to plug in," says education specialist Tammy Cabrera.

Cabrera says teachers have to document why a student received a failing grade.

"In a D or an F the teacher has to give full accountability as to all the opportunities that students were given that resulted in that D or F. How many communications were given," she said.

Educators say it may take the results of standardized tests, usually given in the spring, to determine how much students have been able to learn during the pandemic.