After Nixing Merit-Based Admissions, More Students Failing at San Francisco High School

A White Plains High School student walks between classes, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in White Plains, N.Y. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited the school as part of the 'Help is Here' tour. The school reopened to all students on April 12.
Mark Lennihan/AP

A San Francisco high school is handing out significantly more failing grades than ever before in its first semester after it scrapped its merit-based admissions scheme for a diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused one.

At Lowell High School — formerly one of only two public schools in the district with a merit-based admissions system — 24.4 percent of freshmen received at least one D or F in the fall semester, compared to 7.9 percent in the fall of 2020 and 7.7 percent in the fall of 2019, according to the San Francisco Unified School District data obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

These numbers represent a tripling of students receiving those grades from 2020 to 2021, which also represents the timeframe for the change from a merit-based admissions system. According to the Chronicle, increases in poor grades also existed in grades 10 through 12 — students who were admitted into the school based on merit — but the increases were “slight” comparatively.

School administrators appear reluctant to attribute the grades to the change in admissions policy, however.

“Over a year of distance learning, half of our student body new to in-person instruction at the high school level and absences among students/staff for COVID all explain this dip in performance,” school principal Joe Ryan Dominguez, who is leaving the school district, told the Chronicle. “It is important not to insinuate a cause on such a sensitive topic at the risk of shaming our students and teachers who have worked very hard in a difficult year.”

Despite Dominguez’s reluctance to place blame, it is worth noting that the 10th through 12th graders were also subject to draconian coronavirus protocols.

In addition, district data shows that the increases of D and F grades in the magnitude seen at Lowell was not consistent across San Francisco USD schools.

“This data suggests that the change to lottery admissions was not in the best interest of SFUSD students,” Lowell Alumni Association president Kate Lazarus said, who wants the school board to nix the new admissions system.

According to the outlet, “Lowell has long been one of the top performing public schools in the country, whose alumni include prominent figures in politics, entertainment, literature and science.”

Critics of the merit-based system argued that it “harmed black and Latino students, who were underrepresented at Lowell. An imbalance of academic resources at the school, critics say, perpetuates inequities.”

“I can see that perhaps the grades may not be what they should be, and that means that Lowell needs to do some intervention, particularly to students of color coming in,” former San Francisco Alliance of Black Educators president Virginia Marshall, who is supportive of the new system, said.

While the freshman class was the “most diverse in decades,” opponents of changing merit-based systems for equity ones argue that it harms everyone involved, as high-performing students are shut out of seeing their full potential and underperforming students who are accepted receive poor grades, making it harder to be admitted into colleges and universities.

According to the Chronicle, this admissions decision was part of the reason San Francisco voters decided to recall three leftist school board members.

Breccan F. Thies is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @BreccanFThies.

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