By Bob Skolnik
The pandemic and remote learning took a toll on area high school students' grades this semester, which ended Dec. 18.
As of mid-November, 35 percent of Riverside-Brookfield High School students were on track to receive at least one F in the second quarter, which is more than double the failure rate of one year ago.
"I know that this is alarming," RBHS Principal Hector Freytas told the school board at its Dec. 8 meeting. "I'm not happy with it."
Older students are doing the worst, with 41 percent of seniors at RBHS having at least one class with a grade of F as of mid- November compared to just 18 percent one year ago.
Thirty-eight percent of juniors had at least one failing grade compared to 19 percent last year, 34 percent of sophomores had at least one F compared to 16 percent last year and 27 percent of freshmen had at least one F compared to just 12 percent last year.
Freytas said many students might have assumed that a state-mandated policy last spring that performance during remote learning could not harm a student's grade may have misled students into thinking that grades would not count this academic year either.
"I believe last year's message of grades can do no harm, which was the right thing to do during the beginning of this pandemic, has given students a false sense of hope, because some students believe that it also applies for this semester," Freytas said.
Freytas said the school had taken steps to help students bring up their grades, including encouraging teachers to give students the ability to make up missed work.
He said administrators and teachers reached out to students with telephone calls and home visits, encouraging them to become more engaged and complete their assignments.
Freytas said the school building has been open for students who need a quiet place to work or a reliable internet connection, noting that some students have done work in his office.
Neither RBHS nor Lyons Township High School gave final exams this semester.
"We've eliminated final exams to give students more time to continue learning," Freytas said.
Many teachers were flexible in helping students boost their grades. With the encouragement of the administration, some teachers in some classes allowed students to do work to improve their first quarter grade. And many teachers eased off on the volume of homework near the end of the semester to allow students time to make up missed work. They also created extra credit opportunities for students trying to boost their grades.
"Teachers are being really lenient this year," said senior Lily Adlesick, a student representative to the school board. "They're just really understanding our situation this year."
However, without direct in-person contact with teachers and the routine of coming to school every day, many students have found it difficult to stay engaged in their classes. There are many distractions at home, from video games to siblings, and many students have found it hard to focus on school work.
Students have been isolated and some, despite the efforts of the school to keep them engaged, have drifted away from a focus on school.
Grades are also down at LTHS in the first quarter.
"We noticed that the percentage of A's, C's and D's were the same or 1 percent higher than the previous year whereas B's were lower by 6 percent and F's were higher by 4 percent," said LTHS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Scott Eggerding in an email.
"Since this was quarter grade information, and since we have never used quarter grade info to predict anything at the semester, I don't believe there can by many conclusions that can be drawn from quarter grades that were recorded in October."