Amid COVID shutdown, almost half of Tulsa students flunking

For almost a year now, several major Oklahoma school districts have not provided full-time, in-person instruction to students. Parents and state officials alike have wondered how that is impacting academic progress.

A midyear report recently released by Tulsa Public Schools provides the answer in that district. Nearly every other student in Tulsa schools was recently flunking at least one class, around 14,000 students total.

That marks a dramatic increase compared to prior years and is associated with the Tulsa district’s longstanding closure for in-person learning, which Tulsa officials claimed was necessary to combat COVID-19 spread. Students have not had a full-time, in-person option in Tulsa since early March 2020.

“Last year: 15% of students had at least 1 failing grade by the end of the first semester,” the Tulsa report stated. “This year: 47% of students had at least 1 failing grade with two weeks left in the semester.”

The report found that A and B grades “are down from prior years as even high performing students are performing differently this year. By early January, compared to last year more than three times as many students were failing at least one course.”

The decline in grades is associated with low levels of online learning, as many students are seldom or only sporadically logging on for virtual education.

The report found “extreme login patterns” among Tulsa high school students with the bottom quartile logging in for instruction just one out of every four days.

Even among the top quintile, Tulsa high school students failed to log on for roughly 25 percent of school days.

“Students who preferred to return in-person had the lowest online engagement,” the report noted.

It also stated that attendance “went down for students who stayed distance” but “went up for PK-3 students who returned in-person,” although even among the latter group attendance was “still not as high as in-person attendance last year.”

During a presentation on the report before the Tulsa Public Schools board of education, one school staffer told board members that some students “disappear until we contact them” and that “students who in a typical year under typical conditions thrive with in-person learning and have great grades are some of the students that are struggling most in distance learning.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt has long called for all schools to fully reopen and has been vocal in his criticism of Tulsa schools.

During his State of the State speech earlier this month, Stitt noted that, at that time it had been 325 days since Tulsa students in 4th through 12th grades had been in classrooms, even as nearby districts had been “safely in session most of the year.” During that speech, Stitt also told the story of Abby Cavness, a Tulsa school parent who said she was “scared for what Tulsa and the school system is going to become after this.”

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