School leaders look to combat rising student failure rates

“For the very first time, we’re looking at the damage this virus has done”:
A generic image of the New Hanover County Board of Education.
A generic image of the New Hanover County Board of Education.(WECT)
Updated: Nov. 11, 2020 at 12:02 AM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County School board addressed some concerning numbers during Tuesday’s meeting about how many students were failing courses in the first quarter of this school year. Data from the first semester of the current academic year shows one in every five high school students and one in every three middle school students are failing at least one class.

These numbers coming more than a month after the first grading period finished. During the meeting, school board member, Judy Justice, questioned why these numbers weren’t made known during the time grades were at their lowest.

“I do have a concern that this was not picked up in the first nine weeks," said Justice. "That says we failed the community for not letting them know that this was happening.”

In the first quarter of the school year, more than 30 percent of students at Laney, Ashley and Hoggard high schools are failing at least one class. The rates are even higher in middle school students where at least one in every three students is failing at least one class.

It’s a problem that’s disproportionately impacting minority students as well, with Hispanic and Black high school students making up 40 percent of the numbers.

And in middle schools, 58 percent of Black students and 57 percent of Hispanic students are failing.

“What we’re seeing here...and I think it’s so important for the community to understand...this is...for the very first time we’re looking at the damage in graph form to what this virus has done," said Nelson Beaulieu, school board member.

The presentation calls online learning a driver for these failure rates, along with students not having the environment they need to successfully learn.

But Amanda White, a teacher at Hoggard High school, says these numbers tell only half of the story. During this time, students were learning under Plan C, all remote learning. Now, there’s a hybrid schedule and students get to go back to class two days a week.

She believes it’s the environment students are working in and the struggle to grasp remote learning through student engagement that is attributing to these numbers.

“It’s not that they’re not understanding the content, it’s that they’re not completing the assignments," said White. "So, if we allow them to complete the content and showcase what they’re capable of doing and they do understand the content, then we can get a better reflection of what they’re doing in that grade. Then, we can see who has actually failed the course because they’ve failed to do the work and understand the content and who is understanding the content. Those failure rates will change in December; we should see better rates”

Board member, David Wortman, has been pushing for schools to reopen for in person learning since the beginning of the school year. For him, the cause is simple and only strengthens his belief that students need to be in classrooms.

“The only thing that’s changed between last year and this year is that kids aren’t in schools," said Wortman. "That is the difference.”

Earlier in the week, parents shared that same sentiment.

“The proof is in the pudding. Just compare it to previous years," said David Collins, a parent with two children at New Hanover High School (NHHS). The change in remote learning for the first quarter is extremely difficult for students.”

Below is a comparison of last school year’s failure rates to this school year’s most recent numbers. In total, 16 percent more students are failing so far this school year than last school year at this time.

WECT followed up with the NHC Schools public information officer to find out why schools like Myrtle Grove Middle School and New Hanover High School seemed to have reversed the trend and reduced the number of failing students compared with the 2019-20 school year. This statement was provided:

Both NHHS and Myrtle Grove Middle School decided to use the grade of Incomplete instead of a failing grade at the end of the first grading period. A grade of Incomplete indicates that the students still have assignments to complete. This likely caused the data at these two schools to appear differently versus the other schools.

NHCS failure rates comparison
NHCS failure rates comparison(wect)

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