JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While Duval County students enter the homestretch of another difficult, pandemic-laden school year, grading data shows a subtle but apparent deficit in achievement by those students engaged in virtual learning when compared to those in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms.
When the COVID-19 pandemic upended the 2019-2020 school year, Duval County Public School leaders were quick to develop, launch and transfer all students to the online remote learning platform Duval Homeroom.
As the pandemic surged through the summer months, and directives from the Florida Department of Education mandated schools offer in-person options, DCPS opted to offer families a choice for their students to attend classes in-person or via the digital format. More than 25,000 students, one-fifth of the student population in the county’s public schools, are still utilizing Duval Homeroom for their studies, according to data provided by DCPS.
Through a public records request, News4Jax obtained grading data of Duval County students for the first half of the 2020-2021 academic year. The data showed a higher rate of “D” and “F” grades given to students in Duval Homeroom when compared to those enrolled in the in-person format.
Among brick-and-mortar students, “A” grades made up 40% of all letters assigned during the first half of the 2020-2021 school year, while 35% of grades given to Duval Homreroom students were “A’s.”
Meanwhile, “D” grades made up 9% of those given to in-person learners, and 11% of those given to distance learners. Brick-and-mortar students were given failing “F” grades at a rate of 8%, while their at-home counterparts were given “F’s” at a rate of 13%.
In early March, DCPS sent emails to the families of more than 17,000 Duval Homeroom students whose grades or attendance were slipping, encouraging those families to return their students to face-to-face instruction.
Corey Wright, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Accountability & Assessment, said the disparity may be caused by “virtual fatigue.”
“The way the scheduling worked out, the secondary students tend to be in front of the screen longer than the elementary students,” Wright said. “I think that it’s virtual fatigue for them and we need to figure out additional ways to support them.”
DCPS’ Chief of Academic Sciences, Paula Renfro, said this fatigue is possible in the secondary grades (6-12), and likely less of a factor in the elementary grades, as virtual learners in K-6 have the benefit of recess and elective time though it’s still with a teacher on a screen.
“That’s why I also believe that you’re seeing a higher rate of perhaps those less than satisfactory grades coupled with lack of engagement perhaps or absenteeism,” Renfro said. “All those things can contribute to that grade distribution.”
Wright said the future of the Duval Homeroom format has not yet been determined and will very likely depend heavily on whether the state legislature decides to continue funding “innovative learning models” which began and was funded under the initial FDOE emergency order.