Top SF high school sees record spike in failing grades after dropping merit-based admission system

Lowell High School
  • San Francisco’s Lowell High School is seeing a record spike in D’s and F’s among its first batch of students admitted through a new lottery system.
  • The new system replaced the school’s established merit-based admissions practice, which had catapulted it to become one of the best high schools in the country.
  • Of the 620 first-year students admitted in fall 2021 via lottery, nearly one in four (24.4%) received at least one letter grade of D or F, tripling from 7.9% in fall 2020.
  • Proponents of the new lottery system argue that the merit-based system was racist as it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students; opponents say it would harm Asian students – who compose the majority of the student body – and undermine the benefits of a competitive academic environment.
  • Principal Joe Ryan Dominguez attributed the spike to “too many variables” and said it is important “not to insinuate a cause on such a sensitive topic.”

San Francisco’s Lowell High School, regarded as one of the best in the nation, is seeing a record spike in Ds and Fs among its first batch of students admitted in fall 2021 through a new lottery system instead of its decades-long merit-based admissions.

Of the 620 first-year students admitted through the lottery, nearly one in four (24.4%) received at least one letter grade of D or F in the said semester, according to internal records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. This marks a triple increase from 7.9% in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019.

Principal Joe Ryan Dominguez attributed the rise in failing grades to “too many variables.” Last month, Dominguez announced his resignation from the school district, citing a lack of “well organized systems, fiscal responsibility and sound instructional practices as the path towards equity.”

“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,” Dominguez 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.”

It must be noted, however, that remote learning in Lowell began in fall 2020, when only 51 students reportedly received a D or an F. That first-year class was the last batch admitted through the old merit-based system.

Still, the latest data showed an increase in low grades among students in grades 10 through 12. But those changes were slight, the Chronicle noted.

The lottery system was born out of a long, contentious battle that began in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Proponents of the new system argue that the merit-based system was racist as it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students, while opponents say it would harm Asian students – who make up the majority of Lowell’s population – and undermine the benefits of a competitive academic environment.

Discussions regarding a long-term policy are still being held. Outgoing District Superintendent Vincent Matthews has proposed an extension of the lottery system, while critics such as Members of the Friends of Lowell group and Lowell’s own Chinese Parent Advisory Council continue to lobby for the return of the old system.

The San Francisco School Board, which introduced the lottery system at Lowell, saw three of its members removed in February after a recall election initiated over misplaced priorities, including what many felt were “anti-Asian” policies.

“San Francisco is a city that believes in the value of big ideas, but those ideas must be built on the foundation of a government that does the essentials well,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement.

 

Featured Image via KPIX CBS SF Bay Area

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