Records show student grades are down in school districts across Colorado due to the pandemic

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DENVER – Jorwin Russell, a senior at Cherokee Trail High School, is doing well in school despite the pandemic. But she can’t say the same for all her friends.

“Personally, right now, I’m doing really good in school,” Russell said. “Most of my peers’ grades are dropping. They’re having a really hard time learning material and a really hard time focusing,” she said.

Denver7 Investigates obtained records from the largest metro area school districts in Colorado, which show student grades during the pandemic are down in almost every district.

Dr. Karen Aronian, an education expert who has taught in New York City and at colleges across the country, said student grades are down “because kids are not doing their work and they’re not engaged, and they’ve given up.”

When compared to the last school year, before the pandemic, records show the number of Adams County students failing more than one class has jumped by more than 35%. Douglas County saw a 27% increase in the number of kids with more than one F.

High schoolers in Jefferson County saw a nearly 30% uptick in failing grades. Littleton, a smaller district, experienced a 62% increase in high schoolers who had more than one failing grade.

“When I hear that, I think that sounds about right,” said Russell.

Russell attends school in the Cherry Creek School District. There, grade-point averages held steady during fall of 2020, but Fs were up.

In Denver, school leaders made the decision not to give out failing grades, which led to a slight jump in GPAs.

“Our goal is not to make it easier by any stretch. What our goal here to do is to make sure that we recognize the challenges that our families and our students are facing,” said Winna MacLaren, a spokeswoman for Denver Public Schools.

MacLaren said instead of giving Fs, Denver students were awarded incompletes. Those students were then given the opportunity to make up the work through one of three avenues:

  • Through the district’s credit-recovery system and completing all of the course competencies
  • Through the credit-recovery system and completing the course competencies for a specific unit of study
  • Through performance on tasks aligned with the essential understandings of a course

“Rather than focusing just on the grade, we are focusing on how is that student learning,” MacLaren said.

Russell and her mother, Kisha, both believe they know what has so many students failing more classes.

“Trying to flip from hybrid to in-person to full remote — being able to adjust to that easily has been very hard this year,” Jorwin said.

Kisha recognizes the difficulties in switching to online learning, but still believes hard work should be rewarded.

“You don’t want to see kids failing because we’re in quarantine. At the same time though, it’s not fair for those kids that are working really hard,” Kisha said.

Out of the seven districts from which Denver7 Investigates obtained records, Denver was the only district that made the decision not to give Fs during the pandemic. Douglas County Schools did change the GPA scale to make it slightly easier, but the district still gave students failing grades.