State Board report highlights consequences of 9th grade GPA drop during the pandemic

Ninth graders who saw disruptions to in-person learning last school year also saw significant declines in their grade-point averages, according to a new report from the State Board of Education on COVID-19’s educational impacts.

The declines surfaced during an hourlong presentation and discussion at the State Board’s Thursday meeting at Idaho State University — and fueled concerns for one board member. 

“They compound and add to the extremely challenging problem of already low student proficiency rates in Idaho,” State Board member Debbie Critchfield said of the report, which also breaks down which Idaho districts — and students — were more likely to see in-person learning disruptions during the pandemic. 

While students who attended school in-person during the 2020-21 school year didn’t see any big GPA changes as a whole, the report says, those who learned in hybrid in-person and online formats, and those whose schools moved fully online for a period of time, saw notable drops:

  • Ninth graders saw a .13 average GPA drop in schools that went in hybrid, but never moved fully online.
  • Ninth graders in schools that went online-only for some period of time saw an average drop of .09 points.

The declines are more stark among students of color, English language learners, and low-income youth — groups that were all more likely to have in-person learning disrupted during the pandemic. 

If those students can’t improve their GPA’s over the next three years, the drop could impact their ability to participate in two programs meant to encourage Idaho youth to pursue higher education, the report says.

Scroll the entire report here:

State Board staff is diving into 2020-21 data to evaluate COVID-19’s learning impacts. State Board members discussed the first batch of findings at Thursday’s meeting.

Board staff focused on ninth grade GPAs because these averages are the most sensitive to COVID-19’s impacts. GPA’s accumulate over time, so students from 10th to 12th grade would have some buffer on their GPA’s from years predating the pandemic.

The majority of Idaho’s students spent the 2020-21 school year in a hybrid-learning environment, but never learned completely online, according to preliminary data from the State Department of Education cited in the report.

Almost 30 percent of students attended a district that moved strictly online for some period of time during the school year, not including the three percent of students enrolled at virtual charter schools. About a quarter of Idaho’s students returned to school in-person at the start of the 2020-21 school year and remained in classrooms all year long.

Here’s a look at how students learned in 2021:

The report shows that some groups were more likely than others to have in-person learning disrupted. Hispanic students, multi-racial students, Asian students, Black students and English language learners were all over-represented in districts that had to switch to online learning, whereas white students and low-income students were under-represented in this group.

Native American students and migrant students were over-represented in districts that stayed in-person all year long.

Source: State Board of Education

Student demographics drove different results 

White and Hispanic students, the two largest ethnicities by population in Idaho schools, both saw a steeper GPA drop in districts that offered hybrid learning, as opposed to districts that went online for some period of time.

While both groups saw declines, there was a significant difference in the drop between the two, the State Board reports: white students’ GPA declined only about .1 points in hybrid; Hispanic students saw a decline of .27 points.

Low income students, English language learners and migrant students all saw steeper declines in online learning.

Students Online GPA drop Hybrid GPA drop
All -.09 points -.13 points
White -.07 points -.10 points
Hispanic -.16 points -.27 points
Low Income -.23 points -.22 points
English Learners -.40 points -.38 points
Migrant students -.57 points -.42 points

These ninth graders still have time to improve their GPA’s before it’s time for college. If they don’t, the State Board estimates that Idaho will see declines in the percent of students who qualify for programs that can help fast-track them for college, including direct admission into Idaho’s colleges and universities, and the Opportunity Scholarship for Idaho residents.

The Opportunity Scholarship can boost the chances that a student will attend college by up to 9%, the State Board report says. It’s one tool in Idaho’s ongoing push to try and increase the rate of students who go-on to higher education.

Without grade improvements, the number of students eligible for these awards will drop — again hitting underprivileged communities hardest.

The state board estimates:

  • There could be about 580, or 3%, fewer White students eligible for the programs.
  • There could be about 400, or 5%, fewer Economically Disadvantaged students eligible for the programs.
  • There could be about 250, or 5%, fewer Hispanic students eligible for the programs.
  • There could be about 100, or 10%, fewer English Language Learner students eligible for the programs.
  • There could be about 30, or 10%, fewer Migrant students eligible for the programs.

Other action from Thursday’s meeting

The State Board unanimously advanced two notable agenda items Thursday.

  • A first reading on a policy that would allow the board’s executive director to work with Idaho’s four-year higher education institutions on coronavirus protocols. The policy would give colleges and university presidents the authority “to implement measures required to prevent the spread of contagious or infectious disease, including limiting programs or activities.” Meanwhile, prior mask requirements put in place at the institutions will remain in place, at least for the beginning of the semester. The board won’t make a final decision on a pandemic protocol policy before its October meeting.
  • A second reading of eight legislative ideas for 2022, including a $42.1 million plan to fund full-day kindergarten, a plan to give rural teachers money to repay their student loans of up to $12,000 over four years and shifting Idaho’s K-12 funding formula from an attendance-based model to one based on enrollment. The proposals now go to Gov. Brad Little for his consideration.

EdNews reporter Devin Bodkin contributed to this story.

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