Keeping the grades up

How the pandemic has changed academic performance for students

Fatima Al-Jayashi, Design Editor

Keeping up with school and grades can already be hard enough in a normal school year. But when you combine a pandemic with online learning, it can be a recipe for disaster for students. After a tough first semester with new changes to the unprecedented school year, students, teachers, and administrators alike are able to see how the pandemic affected students’ academic performance significantly. Many factors play into this problem, but as students are ending the school year, will they be able to end the year strong or will the grades continue to decline?

With the changes brought on by hybrid-learning, losing motivation and not being able to see teachers often, it can be a major struggle for students to keep up with their academic performance. Based on a voluntary survey taken by 184 Lincoln Southeast High School (LSE) students, 54.9 percent claim that their grades are worse this year compared to previous years.

Amongst these students, a majority of them claim that the structure of the hybrid schedule has caused them to fall behind when they have to go online for half the week. The difficulty of paying attention to classes through Zoom because of distractions has a major effect on grades along with having to keep up with the workload.

Junior Sarah Washburn is one of the many students who claims that their academic performance has worsened this year due to not only Zoom, but how school is structured this year.

“Everything feels rushed and part of it is I feel like I can’t ask my teachers questions, especially over Zoom,” Washburn said. “There is also no way of catching up. With the 3/2 schedule, if you miss something on Monday, you don’t come back to school until Thursday.”

Not only is it hard to keep up with a hybrid schedule and the changing of environments, students have to rely on their own motivation and productivity to keep their grades up. Out of those 184 LSE students, 42.4 percent say that their motivation is not great this year.

LSE math teacher Alan Holdorf has also noticed a lot of change with students and their motivation towards school.

“The biggest change I have seen is students having to rely on their own motivation for their success. With students not in the building every day, it’s more difficult to effectively encourage them to do the work they need to do in order to be successful,” Holdorf said.

Keeping up with motivation and productivity can be hard when there are a lot of emotional stressors — like the pandemic — placed on students. According to The Conversation’s article titled, “Having trouble concentrating during the coronavirus pandemic? Neuroscience explains why”, author Beatrice Pudelko claims that anxiety and worry affect attention and cognitive resources of working memory, resulting in worsened cognitive performance. With cognitive performance being essential in school, students may struggle more with their grades when this performance is not at their optimal level.

LSE students are not the only ones who have seen changes in their grades. This pattern can be seen throughout the whole country. According to an Associated Press article titled, “US Schools Confront ‘Off the Rails’ Number of Failing Grades,” more than 40 percent of middle and high school students were failing in at least one class in New Mexico. In Houston, Texas, 42 percent of students had at least one F in their first progress reports.

As students are being taken away from the normal things they used to be exposed to, such as having easy communication and receiving help, many are having trouble without these supports. With a lack of accessibility to these resources, many are seeing the consequences in their academic performance.

“I can’t ask teachers questions, and it’s hard to work with friends and classmates, even when put into group assignments,” Washburn said.

One major thing that students have been seeing is how their study habits have been changing. For many, they have been experiencing poorer study habits. In fact, 71.2 percent of LSE students say their studying habits worsened this year. With students having no consistency in their school schedule and procrastination becoming more prevalent, it can be hard to tackle the right studying technique during this odd school year.

“I would usually go to my friends or consult my teachers to ask them more questions, but it seems like I just have to go over my own notes or see what I can find on the internet or on [Google] Classroom,” Washburn said.

As students are pushing through the second semester, many are wondering how they will be able to end on a stronger note compared to last semester. Around 66.8 percent of LSE students say that they are nervous about their grades for the rest of the semester. Many are already making changes by working to improve their study habits, or even moving to in-person full time to avoid the difficulties of Zoom learning.

On Jan. 22, 2021, Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) announced that seniors could return to school full time at the beginning of February. Senior Grace Nelson is one of the many seniors who decided to come back in-person full time. After returning, she has seen improvements towards her academic performance.

“[Coming back] has really helped my motivation – I think there’s an accountability piece that comes with seeing your teachers daily,” Nelson said. “Being around other students has helped my academic performance, especially in math because it’s much easier to collaborate with others.”

The pandemic continues to affect students’ lives more than ever, and students are still struggling to keep up with these new changes. The worsening of academic performance during the pandemic has affected students significantly and some are questioning how much longer it will last. However, as normality starts to ease back in and students are able to get back to their routines, they can reflect on the struggles they learned from during this unprecedented year and become better students because of it.