By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
Out of the city’s 1.1 million public school students, over 71,000 received a “course in progress” as a final grade for a class they began last year, Department of Education officials revealed on Wednesday.
Due to the multiple interruptions to the school year caused by the coronavirus pandemic, DOE officials relaxed public school grading policy and instructed teachers to issue “course in progress” grades instead of failing letter grades to students unable to complete coursework.
Now, those students have until the end of this month to complete their outstanding work before a permanent letter grade is placed on their transcripts. Over 20,100 of those students with a “course in progress”–abbreviated as NX on school transcripts–are special needs students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and over 13,800 are English language learners.
The upcoming deadline worries lawmakers, like City Council Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger, since thousands of students could be given a “damaging permanent grade” potentially deepening the academic divide in the city already worsened by the pandemic.
“These kids need support, they need internet devices, they need instruction, they need teachers, they need connections, they don’t need to be given a damaging permanent grade particularly for something that is no fault of their own,” said Councilmember Treyger.
There were two groups of students that are at particularly high risk of falling through the cracks; those living in shelters and the perpetually absent.
Many of the city’s 114,000 public school students living in city shelters still lack proper access to WiFi which is essential for connecting to remote classes.
Last October, Mayor de Blasio promised to install WiFi in all city shelters in response to reports revealing students in city shelters still struggled to turn in homework and log on to classes seven months into the pandemic. But the mayor warned that the task would probably not be complete until the summer of 2021.
In addition, the DOE has been unable to track down 2,600 students who have not logged on or shown up to class since the pandemic forced schools to close in March of last year, Deputy Chancellor Donald Conyers told City Councilmembers during an oversight hearing on learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday. Conyers could not provide a demographic breakdown of these missing students.
DOE officials also revealed that public school teachers could be responsible for up to 50 blended learning students on remote days. Class sizes that large, Treyger argued, makes it impossible for school staff to account for the whereabouts of every student and fully meet the academic needs.
Multiple studies have found that students are sliding backward in terms of learning due to the pandemic. One study released in December from McKinsey & Co, claims that the shift to remote learning last spring resulted in students of color being set back three to five months in math while white students lost one to three months.
“The purpose of this hearing is to take stock of the learning impact on our kids but I am finding it a challenge here to believe that we have actually taken that stock,” said Treyger. “I don’t think we have found the depths of how much loss our kids have actually experienced yet.”