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(Corrects name to Lilliana from Liliana in paras 21 and 22)
By Gabriella Borter and Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - Like millions of American children, Brody Cotton has not seen the inside of a classroom in more than a year.
As the COVID-19 pandemic left him navigating 7th grade from his couch in Carlsbad, California, Brody's grades dropped from As and Bs to a D and two Fs last semester.
One of the Fs was in a "design and modeling" elective that would have entailed hands-on 3D printing projects in the classroom but became popsicle stick models at home.
"I never had to deal with any kind of educational issue with him before," said his mother Christine Cullinan, 42, a single parent juggling her son’s schooling with a full-time job at an electronics company.
Brody's peers also are struggling. The number of Fs received by students in Carlsbad, a small, affluent, mostly white city 30 miles north of San Diego, increased by more than three times during the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year compared to the same period in 2019-2020, according to school district data.
Grades and test performance appear to have declined markedly around the country after school buildings closed - especially among students of color, according to Reuters’ review of an assortment of early data from multi-state assessments, local media reports, state education departments and 12 individual districts.
Under the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many districts plan to bring students back to campus full-time next fall, if not sooner. But huge hurdles remain for educators and parents in getting students up to speed.
Escalating numbers of students are failing classes, according to data from some of the nation’s largest school districts, including Clark County School District in Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, Chicago Public Schools and Broward County Public Schools in Florida, which includes Fort Lauderdale. Clark County started bringing students back to classrooms this month, while Chicago started in January and Broward has offered in-person learning since October.
In Clark County, the nation’s fifth largest district, 13% of all grades were Fs in the first semester of the 2020-21 school year compared to 6% the year before. In Broward County, with 260,000 students, 12% of grades in the second marking period this fall were Fs, up from 6% last school year.
The results of limited statewide standardized testing, which has often been delayed during the pandemic, also are grim. In North Carolina, more than half of the state’s high school students who took statewide end-of-course exams in math and biology this fall received a “not proficient,” according to results presented by the state’s education board. Math scores lagged the most, with 66.4% of students scoring “not proficient” on the Math 1 exam, typically taken in 9th grade, compared to 48.2% last school year, state data showed.