LBUSD student performance negatively impacted through virtual learning as lower grades prevail, affecting graduation readiness

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Long Beach Unified School District to provide summer programs and student data to teachers; Board member questions grade equity. 

While some Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) students have done well with virtual learning over the past year, most have struggled – and it shows in their lower grades.

Chris Brown, assistant superintendent of research, planning and school improvement, told the LBUSD Board of Education during its Tuesday, March 16 workshop that student performance at all levels except kindergarten has been negatively impacted by the move to online learning since last March due to the pandemic.

For high schoolers, only two-thirds are currently on track for graduation compared to three-fourths at this same time last year, Brown said. 

However, that deficit is mostly driven by ninth and tenth graders falling behind rather than seniors, Brown said. Ninth and tenth graders are each 12% less on track to graduate than last year compared to 1% for seniors, according to LBUSD metrics.

Pacific Islanders are 11% lower in graduation readiness, while white students – already deemed 20% more prepared to graduate than students of color – are only 4% less prepared this year than last, Brown showed.

Data showing the comparisons of students on track for graduation and who are meeting the A-G requirements needed for college readiness. The light blue shows the data from the Fall 2020 semester compared to the dark blue showing data from Fall 2019. (LBUSD)

Similarly, English-language learners and low-income students are about 10% less prepared to graduate compared to last year. 

“That doesn’t mean these kids won’t graduate,” Brown qualified. “It just means that there’s some intervention to be done moving through the spring to make sure we get them there.”

Middle schoolers have similarly fallen behind in high-school preparedness, by 17%, Brown shared. English-language learners are 23% less prepared for high school than last year and low-income students 18% less. 

The data implies LBUSD needs to offer summer enrichment programs and design targeted interventions for incoming ninth graders in the fall, Brown said.

“The plan would be to help teachers know who those students are in their classes who are coming to them that need that extra support,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of work in relationship building and face-to-face connection.” 

Brown added that his office is starting to drill down into the data to provide teachers and school administrators with specific student information by the fall.

“It’s probably not the same for every kid,” he said. “Each student’s going to have a different set of needs coming in.”

Grades

Grades drive most of LBUSD’s metrics for high-school and middle-school preparedness, and those have fallen across the board, Brown said.

The number of As and Bs fell by 6% and 1% while Ds and Fs increased by 14% between the Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 semesters, Brown said.

Also, the proportion of students with at least one D or F increased by 11% between those periods, Brown said.

Graphic shown during a Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education workshop on March 16 comparing grades from Fall 2019 and Fall 2020, indicating 12% less A and B grades and 14% more D and F grades in 2020 than in 2019. (LBUSD)

While that increase affected students of all ethnicities, African-American, Latinx, and Pacific-Islander students saw the highest increase in Ds and Fs by 10%, 13% and 15% respectively, Brown showed.  

“Nobody was not impacted,” he said. “Everybody was impacted by the COVID environment.”

However, Brown said it’s not that students who were getting low grades are getting lower, but that there are more students with one D or F.

“What we don’t have is the same students who were getting one now getting five,” he said.

That implies schools don’t have to support students who have fallen behind in every course but just one or two. 

Middle-school grades tumbled more than high-school grades, with 17% more of the younger students earning Ds and Fs than last year compared to 9% more for the older students, suggesting that the older high schoolers adapted better to virtual learning.

For students who didn’t have a D or F in Fall 2019, many more now do, with 8,156 Hispanic students, or 15% more than last year, showing a D or F on their Fall 2020 report cards compared to none last year. 

Among African-American students, 1,582 more now have a D or F, of which 95% have an F. Among the 2,511 of white students who now have a D or F, only 17% have an F.

Elementary-school students also suffered academically, with K-5 achievement reports sliding downward by 13%, except kindergarten, which remained the same, Brown said. Second and third graders were especially affected, he added.

“We have still a lot of our students who are performing on or above level,” Brown said. “It’s not disastrous. It’s not ‘nobody is learning.’ A lot of our students are learning. Our teachers are doing really great work […] given the virtual environment.”

In writing, elementary-school students received lower assessments ranging from 12% to 19%. 

In math, though students in the “on or above level” decreased by 21% overall, that still leaves about half of students doing better than expected, Brown said. 

“We did see a lot of students have some drop,” Brown said. “But the beauty of K-5 students is we’ve got a lot of time.” 

Equity

Board Member Dr. Juan Benitez, who represents District 3 in southwest Long Beach, questioned the use of grades to assess students, especially now when the most vulnerable students with the highest needs have been disproportionally impacted by virtual learning. 

“How do we use an equity lens to interpret and then act on this data?” Benitez asked the board. “Is it equitable to use grades for how we think about student success?”

Benitez said looking at only grades is “disastrous” given that only 3,983 of LBUSD’s approximately 40,000 Hispanic students didn’t receive at least one D or F.

“That’s really problematic for me,” Benitez said, further calling grade-assessment a “deficit-oriented conversation.” 

Benitez said relying on grades is highly inequitable given that two-thirds of LBUSD students are considered poor and 88% are students of color.

“What else can we use to measure progress and determine whether our students are succeeding?” Benitez asked. “If we don’t understand the link between grades and learning, then we’re operating under a false premise.” 

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