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Failing grades up 600% at Garfield High: Should letter grades be handed out during COVID?

Puget Sound schools continue to grapple with the COVID crisis. (Seattle Public Schools, Facebook)

Should the Seattle school district be giving out letter grades to high school students this year? The Gee and Ursula Show received numbers from an employee at Garfield High School on how many students are failing classes. Failing grades in 2020 skyrocketed by more than 600% from the average over the prior three years (grades are being recorded as incompletes that could turn into permanent F’s).

In the three school years prior to this last year, there were an average of 303 failing grades given in the first semester of the year, according to the Garfield High School employee. In 2020, that number jumped to 2,233.

Out of the 1,857 students at Garfield High School, 47% are failing at least one class, and 31% are failing at least two.

For Gee, now is not the time to be giving out letter grades.

“We are going through an unprecedented time, something that our country has not gone through in over 100 years,” he said. “And with that being said, kids are being asked to do something that their parents don’t even understand what it is that they’re going through. They’re missing out on school, they’re missing out on sports, they’re missing out on activities, they’re missing out on being around their friends.”

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“So some might say, ‘Well, Gee, if you don’t give them letter grades, what would do you do?’ Simple. On their transcript, it just says ‘pandemic,'” he suggested. “… 411,000 Americans have passed away because of COVID, businesses have been lost, jobs have been lost, the unemployment rate is through the roof right now. … We adults are losing our minds. What do you think these kids are doing? And then to add insult to injury, the kids are at home. Not every child has the best situation.”

Ursula understands this sentiment, but doesn’t think we should be doing away with letter grades, and that schools should find a different way to adapt and level the playing field.

“I agree with everything that you say, but I disagree that we should be doing away with letter grades,” she said. “I think every single school needs to understand everything that you just laid out, that it is not fair, that it is not a level playing field, that there are people who are going hungry, that there are people who are suffering. … There’s some students who are going to to flourish with the online learning, but there are far more students who are doing worse.”

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“So those students who are doing worse, I would say you don’t fail them. You give them every opportunity to get a pass. … But I think to also remove all letter grades from high school students would also hurt those who are doing well,” she added. “So many things have already been taken away from them.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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