Students struggle amid pandemic as grades, mental health decline

"It's not just academics that are behind these D's and F's. There's a lot of life there too and what families are experiencing within this environment."
Posted: 5:04 PM, Feb 23, 2021
Updated: 2021-03-23 14:49:17-04
Depressed Student Over Desks

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — There is new data from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools about how students are performing as they learn from home.

According to the data, the percentage of students failing their classes is on the rise across several school districts as educators struggle to come up with a way to help them. A representative from the Kern High School District said there's no clear path to combatting education loss.

"It's not just academics that are behind these D's and F's. There's a lot of life there too and what families are experiencing within this environment. Whether students have additional responsibilities at home, or they're worried about the status of what their parents are in and trying to be successful so there's just so much behind the grades," explained Dr. Brenda Lewis of the Kern High School District

Dr. Lewis went on to say that the district is working on helping students educationally and that efforts to repair some of the emotional and psychological toll on students are underway. On top of this virtual counseling and tutoring are available to some students but it's not clear yet what impact those services are having on their well-being.

Student Taking Test


See a Breakdown of the Research

Veronica Morley, 23ABC
12:04 PM, Feb 23, 2021

The research compares the percentage of D's and F's from the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2020 when school districts across Kern County were in the midst of distance learning.

Students getting more Ds and Fs in Kern County amid distance learning

The research was compiled from the three largest school districts in Kern County which makes up for nearly half of all schools in the community. One thing was consistent in the results: some students are struggling to keep up with distance learning.

"It has been almost one year since Kern County schools transitioned from in-person instruction to distance learning for 194,000 K-12 students," said Kern County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Barlow.

And now research shows how distance learning has impacted the way some students are performing. According to Greg West, the director of Kern Integrated Data Systems, grades have been falling.

"Overall between the three districts, we saw an increase of 14 percent D and F's as compared to last year, with the majority of those coming from students in that middle range, the B and C range, dropping down into the D and F range."

The research compared fall 2019 and fall 2020 grades at Kern High, Bakersfield City, and Panama-Buena Vista school districts which are the three largest in Kern County and account for about 90,000 students.

  • At KHSD, 14 percent more 9th through 12th-grade students received Ds or Fs.
  • At BCSD, 17 percent more 6th through 8th graders received Ds or Fs.
  • And at P-BVUSD 13 percent more 6th through 8th graders received Ds or Fs.

BCSD Deputy Superintendent Mark Luque said during a time of being connecting digitally, it’s been a disconnection that played a role in declining student performance.

"We were constantly battling everything from connectivity to engagement with students," he said. "It's that connection that our kids and our staff have not been able to reestablish during distance learning that we are trying to afford to our kids."

That's why KHSD's Associate Superintendent of Instruction Brenda Lewis said faculty should focus on what's happening behind the scenes.

"There is just so much that is behind the grades and even though we are focusing on the academics and what the students have missed and what they need to learn and how we can provide interventions to mitigate some of that loss, it's also important that we are focusing on those social and emotional needs of our students."

Tuesday the Kern County Public Health Department announced that schools teaching up to 6th grade can reopen for in-person instruction in Kern County. These are the schools that didn't reopen when the county was in the red tier in the fall.

School districts adjusting during pandemic, KHSD says they are working on "flexible grading"

And with those struggles in the digital classroom, districts, and teachers are continuing to try and help students succeed in that online platform. Kern High School said they understand that in addition to grades, distanced learning has had social and emotional impacts on students. Especially the socioeconomically disadvantaged, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The district said they've been working on staff and program development, in the process of virtual learning, which includes being flexible with grading.

Independence High School physical education teacher Kristine Jacobson has been holding zoom workout classes with this mindset given the circumstances.

"You know, kids are always going to try to make excuses and work the system, but there are legitimate issues. But there are legitimate things like wi-fi issues, or download issues, and things like that. So there's been a lot more leeway with timelines and deadlines."

Jacobson emphasized that because kids are learning on zoom all day, they're not moving as much. Her goal is to make sure students get physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day.

Jacobsen adds that as soon as teachers and students are permitted to go back to in-person instruction, she says she's ready.

On Wednesday morning on 23ABC News, learn more about how Kern High School parents feel about the distance learning impact on student grades.

Distanced Learning Impacts: Parents react to changes in education

With more coverage of the impacts on students during the pandemic, 23ABC asked parents to tell us about how their kids are adapting to distanced learning.

One parent named Dominique said: "My 7-year-old is depressed. I can't get him to be excited about things he used to. He's 7. He shouldn't be feeling like this"

Another parent said she is having a totally different experience. Alesia said: "Mine are doing amazing!! Straight A's this year for both. But now neither of them wanna go back."

School Backpacks


Kern's TK through 6th grade schools can reopen for in-person instruction

Veronica Morley, 23ABC
10:17 AM, Feb 23, 2021

At the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting, Tuesday officials said there's some light at the end of the tunnel for students, parents, and teachers alike. Kern County Public Health Director Brynn Carrigan announced that kindergarten through 6th graders can now return to school.

This comes after Kern County's adjusted case rate fell to roughly 18 and a half infections per 100,000 residents which is below the state's metric for reopening schools.

But high schools and junior high schools can't reopen just yet. Carrigan said per state requirements grades 7 and up can return to in-person learning when Kern County enters the red tier.