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San Diego Unified Reports Lower Grades, Higher Absenteeism During Pandemic Year

A student participating in a distance learning virtual class during the COVID-19 pandemic in this file photo taken Sept. 2, 2020.
Ross D. Franklin / AP
A student participating in a distance learning virtual class during the COVID-19 pandemic in this file photo taken Sept. 2, 2020.

The San Diego Unified School District is reporting that absenteeism was up and grades were down during the 2020-21 pandemic school year.

Overall attendance at San Diego Unified was down this year with Black and Latinx students as well as English learners and students with disabilities suffering the biggest declines.

San Diego Unified Reports Lower Grades, Higher Absenteeism During Pandemic Year
Listen to this story by Joe Hong

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San Diego Unified Board President Richard Barrera says this trend should reverse as students return to campus. But the district will also invest in counseling services to help students get back on track.

“Students first of all were not feeling engaged in their classes,” Barrera said. “With all the other stress that’s going on in their lives and their families’ lives, unfortunately it’s not surprising that we saw a decrease in attendance and an increase in chronic absenteeism.”

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Chronic absenteeism rates nearly doubled for some student groups in the district. The number of students missing at least 10% of the school year shot up from 11% to 21% for Black students and from 13% to 24% for English learners.

English learners also had disproportionately lower grades during the pandemic. Barrera said strong teacher training will be key to reversing that trend.

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“Developing the capacity of the classroom teacher to support English learners has been a strategy that’s shown to have really positive outcomes for reducing the number of long-term English learners,” Barrera said.

Finally, English learners were the only student group reported to have seen a decline in graduation rates this year. Overall, the district saw a slight increase.