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I-Team: High School Failure Rates In Massachusetts Jumped During Pandemic

CHELSEA (CBS) - Massachusetts educators are looking at ways to make up for all the learning students have lost during the pandemic. While it's no secret that many kids struggle with remote classes, WBZ-TV's I-Team has uncovered records showing stunning failure rates.

"Online learning feels next to impossible at this point," said Chelsea High School senior Victoria Stutto. "Four other people live with me at home, and we live in the projects, so it's just very cramped and small. All I hear all day long is just the video games, and them screaming in the other room, and I'm here trying to take an exam."

Her classmate Katy Ochoa agrees.

"Literally just yesterday, there was like an issue with paying our WiFi bill, so I was out of two of my classes," she said, adding that she feels like she missed a year of education.

Records the I-Team obtained show high school failure rates up in all of Massachusetts' biggest school districts including Boston, Newton, Framingham, and Worcester.

hager i-team
(WBZ-TV graphic)

In Lawrence, the number of students failing one or more classes jumped by 56%. In Quincy the failure rate was up as much as 22% this year. And in Lynn, 15% of the grades on second quarter report cards were Fs.

hager i-team
(WBZ-TV graphic)

"I mean the need is really, really pervasive from the core academics of reading and math and science, to the fine and performing arts," said Tiffany Lillie, the Community Resource Development Director for Framingham Public Schools.

She is working to expand summer learning options, with the help of federal and state pandemic aid money.

"I think students aren't always ready to learn unless they have all of their basic needs met, so we're really looking at, what are the pieces that we can help support them," she said. "Their mental health at times, can become absolutely a block to classroom learning."

But summer school can be a tough sell. An informal WBZ-TV Facebook poll showed 76% of people who answered, said they would not consider summer school as a way to make up education lost during the pandemic.

"My kids need a mental break," said one comment. "It's been hard enough," said another. "Let the kids enjoy summer vacation!"

"I wouldn't want my child to go to school in the summer," Framingham mom Marla McNulty told the I-Team.

But some other parents said they were worried about how far children have fallen behind.

"I can see where it would help definitely and catch them up," said Framingham father Dean Silk.

"I don't think it's easy to make up", said Katy Ochoa. She not only lost more than a year of learning, she was also sick with COVID-19. "I still have long term symptoms," she said. "I feel like I missed life, you know."

The I-Team also found that in school districts with more low-income families, there was less in-person learning and more technical challenges.

In Boston, where administrators have kept the most detailed data on grades, it was students of color who had the biggest jump in failure rates this year.

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