When New York City schools closed in March 2020, students struggled to log on to remote classes and complete assignments. So education officials waived attendance and testing requirements and established a no-fail policy.
Students who hadn't done assignments or shown mastery were given an "NX" -- "course in progress" -- rather than an "F," reports Amanda Geduld on Chalkbeat. They could move on to the next class and make up the work later.
Few students made up the work that summer, so the policy was extended through June of 2021. By fall of 2021, one third of high school students -- 40 percent of blacks and Latinos -- had at least one NX.
"Ultimately, many of the city’s most vulnerable students were pushed through to the next grade level with few supports, no direct instruction, and little work completed," writes Geduld, a fellow for the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.
New York City's graduation rate went up, despite soaring absenteeism. It helped that the state had waived Regents exams.
“They lowered an already low bar,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Most of the teachers Geduld surveyed said the work needed to turn an NX into a passing grade was very easy: Students completed a packet or online module.
Sometimes, teachers never met the NX students or saw their make-up work: An administrator assigned the final grade.
Teachers, who were struggling to teach many more unprepared students, felt pressured to keep their passing rates up, writes Geduld.
One Brooklyn science teacher alleged that his principal explicitly told staff to pass all middle schoolers outright, discouraging them from giving out NXs in the first place, even if the students had never attended class.
Expectations kept falling, says Rachel King, who taught English at the Institute of Math and Science. She was told to use students’ grades on a single assignment as their grade for the entire year. Students quickly realized they could turn in anything and pass.
By winter break, King gave up. She cleared all the NX's and passed all her students. Six students who never showed up and never completed make-up work passed. In March 2022, she quit.
These young people will be trying to find their way in the workforce, job training or college without academic skills or work habits. The city's high graduation rate means: Your 13 years of free education are over! You're on your own. Good luck, kids. You'll need it.