MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Public Schools says more than 30 percent of its high school students failed classes last fall under the virtual learning model. District data shows that’s an 11.5 percent increase compared to the 2019-2020 school year.
MPS’ reopening plan gives all high school seniors the option to return to the classroom on April 26. The same goes for freshmen, sophomores and juniors who failed classes during the fall semester. The district’s goal is to help get those students back on track.
District data shows 30.3 percent of high school students were considered to have failed the fall 2020 semester. It’s a sharp increase compared to the previous school year in which 18.8 percent of students failed courses.
“It really comes down to ultimately, 'have you submitted your assignments in Google Classroom or have you not,'” said MPS teacher Angela Harris.
Harris says she’s alarmed by how many students are falling behind, but she says neither students nor educators are to blame.
“There's so many external forces and external circumstances that are out of their control, that they can't deal with,” she said.
MPS data shows there are about 20,000 high school students in the district. That means about 6,000 students failed courses last fall. But MPS is far from the only district struggling amid the pandemic.
Waukesha School District data shows 28 percent of its high school students failed at least one class last semester under a hybrid learning model, which is a mix of both in-person and virtual instruction.
Wauwatosa School District data says 18 percent of its middle and high school students failed a class in the fall. That’s nearly double the amount compared to a year prior.
Both districts say that was a major factor in their decision to already return students to the classroom five days a week, but Harris believes grades shouldn’t even be on students’ report cards this school year in Milwaukee.
"I think that in a typical traditional school year, these educators would have an opportunity to be able to pull those students aside and have conversations and try to assist them and get that grade up,” she said.
MPS says high school students who failed courses will have the opportunity to return to classrooms with all seniors in a month. Harris thinks that creates a situation where struggling students are being singled out.
“I would hate to be a high school student that was in that situation and then also have to worry about the pressures of being stigmatized because I've been labeled as a failing student,” she said.