Data shows an uptick in freshmen this school year, and some believe they have the reason for this, despite public school enrollment losses.
9th-grade enrollment has increased by 5%-15% in numerous areas across the United States. This comes during record enrollment drops overall. Many schools expected an influx of students upon reopening after pandemic lockdowns, but this trend displays a bigger long-term issue. A large portion of current high school freshmen should be sophomores. Unfortunately, due to a loss of learning during the pandemic, many young teenagers are having to repeat their introduction to high school along with younger students.
This is being experienced across 15 states and the District of Columbia. Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, North Carolina, and West Virginia have seen the largest increase in 9th-grade enrollment. Texas is experiencing a rate of freshman growth that is more than four times higher than in previous years. In Alabama, this has become so common that Winston County High School principal, Jeffrey Cole, admitted that this generation of students has a hole in their education, and that he’s having to hold students back at record rates.
The majority of states experiencing this dilemma are in the south. They have strict advancement criteria and will not allow freshmen to enroll in the 10th grade if they do not pass their 9th-grade classes. During the pandemic, this seemed to become a political decision. The Baltimore school system took a different route and decided not to make students repeat a grade if they fail during the national state of emergency. This is the same school system that has recently come under scrutiny for graduating illiterate students.
This became a trend throughout the 2020-2021 school year, leading to the freshmen influx. Washington state adopted a policy called the “do no harm” grading system, in which students who failed their subjects during the pandemic were not allowed to be held back. New York and many California schools dropped the ability to give students failing grades altogether. These efforts were meant to advance equity and offer a more effective response to learning difficulties, but these schools failed to focus on the student’s understanding of the content and instead focused on the grade alone.
Many have noted that removing the grade will not instill a better understanding of teaching materials. This was said to have pointed out a clear political divide between states which pass failing students, and those which are holding students to the same standards as before. Now that more students are being held back and freshman classes are swelling, many people are wondering how these opposing approaches will affect students and their futures.
Some parents fear that moving students on to the next grade before they are ready will only create more problems for them as they advance to more difficult materials without the proper knowledge. Others are concerned that there is a stigma associated with repeating a grade after failure and that will discourage them from learning. While it is unknown what the exact outcomes of these different approaches will be, the freshman of today will be the graduating class of 2025, and they are the ones who have to face these new challenges brought on by the long-term effects of pandemic restrictions on education practices.