Failing grades in Waukesha high schools spike during remote learning

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- One of the most complex problems during this pandemic has been educating children.

School districts have tried a variety of methods.

The Waukesha School District is making big changes at the end of January.

Middle and high school students will go back to school full time. The district switched to a hybrid plan when the virus peaked in the fall, but high school students' grades compared to last year have tanked.

"She had to ask for help and she never asks for help," said parent Rebecca Flaherty.

She knew her daughters were struggling. Anna's grades had dropped in calculus, Lily was skipping lunch.

"She was spending her lunch hour in study halls and classrooms trying to get extra help from teachers," said Flaherty.

So when she got data from the district on how students fared first quarter, she was stunned to learn the number of "F" grades handed out across the high schools had jumped 265 percent.

"That's one in four, that's shocking," said Flaherty.

Waukesha North up 440 percent. South up 186 percent. West up 262 percent.

"Really from the onset we knew that we had work to do," said Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning Rachel Hermann.

She said students' grades started suffering with the first shutdowns last spring. She said the district has been trying to walk a tightrope across the virus ever since.

"Safety is of course always at the heart of what we do," said Hermann.

The school district is not alone. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Senior Scientist Curtis Jones said distance learning is hard for students.

"When students don't have the social aspects of education, it makes it very challenging for students to get motivated to continue to do work," said Jones.

Hermann said the district works with teachers to make their classes more "Zoom proof." Social workers and guidance counselors help solve other issues, and the school aligned lunch hours to give kids more time with teachers.

"We have a responsibility, pandemic or not, to continue to find ways to educate them," said Hermann.

Flaherty is just glad the kids are going back full time shortly.

"They're going to need to figure out how to work with students to bridge this gap in education," said Flaherty.

The data covers just the first quarter of this school year.

Hermann said they'll see in a few weeks if these failing grades improved at all in the latter part of the semester.

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