Failure rates rising for Round Rock ISD students during pandemic

Investigations

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Failing grades are spiking for Round Rock middle and high school students.

This week, Round Rock Independent School District board members will meet to review the rise in failure rates among these students during the first nine weeks, and discuss ways teachers are helping them bounce back during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RRISD released the data on its website Monday after KXAN has been requesting the information for more than a week. The first nine weeks ended on Oct. 16.

According to the district, 27% of high school students received a grade below 70 in at least one class at the end of the first nine-week grading period. At the same time last school year, only 15% percent had received that low a grade.

In middle school, 23% of students scored below 70 in at least one class, compared to 8% last year.

RRISD failing grade graphs 111020
Percentage of middle and high school students failing one or more classes during first nine weeks of Fall 2020 (Source: Round Rock ISD)

Of those students, the data shows those who returned to campus after the first three weeks of all virtual instruction did worse than the students who remained virtual.

In RRISD, up until this Monday “in-person learning” meant students who returned to campus were physically in the building, but still divided up into pods and taking classes over the computer.

The method has drawn criticism from some parents. A mom KXAN spoke with last month said her two teenagers only tried it for one day.

“It was just very chaotic for my kids and they just said, ‘Mom, I can do this at home,'” she said.

District data also shows the majority of students who were failing are in one of two groups: economically disadvantaged or they do not speak English as their first language.

RRISD failing grade data 111020
Breakdown by campus of students failing one or more classes (Source: Round Rock ISD)

The district said principals, teachers and counselors are stepping to help students with failing grades who have the chance to improve their grades with “repair and recover” opportunities.

“They’re rallying together and determining how to best meet every student’s needs,” said RRISD Area Superintendent Dr. Nancy Guerrero, who has been meeting with principals.

In a statement on the RRISD website, Superintendent Dr. Steve Flores said now more than ever, the district is promoting “grace over grades” — providing more time for teachers to turn in grades and for students turn in missing assignments.

“Students are learning in a new environment, on an unfamiliar platform and during a time of upheaval and uncertainty,” said Flores. “We knew the inevitability that grades would be affected. Now, we must employ new strategies to repair learning loss and help our students continue to grow academically.”

During the first grading period, middle school students passed 88% of all classes, and high school students passed 89% of their classes.

RRISD failing grade data 111020
Breakdown by campus of students failing one or more classes (Source: Round Rock ISD)

Mandy Estes, Round Rock ISD Chief of Teaching and Learning said the district is confident grades will improve once students and teachers settle into the learning platform.

The district said comparisons are more difficult to make at the elementary level, but according to benchmark testing, the overall percentage of students identified as on-level in reading was slightly higher in kindergarten and about the same in first and second grades.

It was lower for third, fourth and fifth graders. In kindergarten, 76% tested on-level while first and second graders tested 62 and 72% on-level.

“Data is our most valuable resource to help guide our instructional decisions as we navigate these challenging and unprecedented circumstances,” Flores said. “We know the absolute best learning environment for the vast majority of our students is face-to-face instruction, but we also know many of our students will remain virtual for quite some time — some may prefer it and want to maintain it — so we must, and we will, create the best virtual learning experience for those students and ensure they have every opportunity to succeed just as they would have in a physical classroom setting.”

Grades down across Central Texas

Round Rock ISD is not alone.

KXAN has been reporting on a dip in grades across multiple school districts in Central Texas during the pandemic, as students and teachers have had to navigate a combination of virtual and in-person learning.

Austin ISD, Hays CISD and Lockhart ISD have all reported higher failure rates among middle and high school students.

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