The pandemic that changed high school


Graphic by Mai Nguyen

A student struggles to focus on online assignments and grades.


The pandemic that demolished any sense of normalcy in 2020. Many schools have taken action against its spread by closing their doors. This has changed everything for high school students around the nation. There will be no prom. No graduation. No last day of school. No goodbyes. Students have been forced to move to online learning to continue their education for the school year. While many high school students have rejoiced at the less work that comes with virtual learning, it’s important that we also recognize the other struggles that are spreading along with the virus.

In North Carolina, officials have issued remote learning as a way to continue education. The Wake County public school system has provided computers, hotspots, and lunches in an attempt to close the economic disparity remote learning highlights. While these measures have helped many, there are still issues pertaining to high school students lurking underneath the surface.

One of the first decisions made by the county, following Roy Cooper’s decision to shut down all the schools in the state, was to change grading for all students to pass/fail for second semester on April 3. There was a petition started by a Wake County student aiming to convince the school system officials that their decision was rushed and impacts high schoolers grades nine through eleven. While this petition was successful in convincing the board to change policies. on April 23, I personally saw many students who didn’t care about how they were being graded; questioning why the petition was even started. Having a pass/fail grading system has a multitude of negative impacts that most students didn’t even come to recognize.

I believe every student should have the opportunity to record their quarter 3 grades (semester or year-long) because I know that myself and others worked diligently to get high grades. I was in two AP classes and two honors classes this semester. Last semester my grade point average (GPA) was decreased due to a B, but this semester would allow me to surpass what my GPA was at the beginning of the year. This pandemic-infested semester is the last one I have before I offer myself up to colleges. I need my GPA to be the best it can be. This is why I’m thankful to Wake County for the policy change on April 23. Students can choose pass/fail or accept their 3rd quarter grade as of Mar. 23 to count towards their GPAs. Despite this very important change, there are still numerous consequences caused by this horrific event.

One of the major ones impacting juniors specifically is the lack of college tours that they will be able to participate in. Many of my own campus tours got canceled and ― while these universities are offering many online resources, including tours ― there is nothing like being in the atmosphere of the campus. Low-income students will also not have the in-person guidance needed to help them navigate complicated financial aid and calculating costs. Many parents have also lost their jobs. That means not having the hundreds of dollars it takes for students to even apply to college, much less the thousands it takes to pay for their child’s education. 

There are still many unknowns at this time and more predicaments may come up in the future. Only time will tell.”

Furthermore, AP classes have been a huge worry to the estimated 2.7 million advanced placement students. AP testing has been changed to an online format this year as of Mar. 20 leading to additional stressors on AP students during this already difficult time. One of the most obvious is that not every student has a reliable internet connection with 10% of North Carolina households reporting no connection at all  (9 million total in the US). The College Board has attempted to amend this by giving students the opportunity to apply to retake their test in June if there is an internet issue, but there are other factors at play. Additionally, the AP exams are modified to fit the course material learned and have a much higher time restriction due to many students not having a quiet space for an extended period of time. This means there is a much higher chance of error. One thing wrong can impact your score much more severely. While College Board testifies that the grading will not be any more difficult than previous years, there are still complications. Even if a student passes their AP exam with flying colors and gets credit for it in college, what happens when they skip the basic classes and advance to a higher level class? Those professors will expect students to have learned the material from those basic classes. Since much of the material will have been skipped over due to the sudden shutdown, students may not have a grasp of all the information. They may have gotten a crash course on it from their teacher but it would have nowhere near as much depth as if the student was in a normal class. There are still many unknowns at this time and more predicaments may come up in the future. Only time will tell.

While these issues are certainly not the universities’ or College Board’s fault by any stretch of the imagination, these predicaments still need to be addressed. If we are knowledgeable about the implications of  COVID-19 we can be more understanding as a society to each other. Colleges need to acknowledge the reflection of this pandemic on students’ GPAs and test scores. School systems need to understand there are is more to equity than just device access. And College Board needs to have grace on scoring this year because, while the changes made do help, they will never make the situation the same. This is a unique time that is hard on everybody. We need to work together during this trying time to get through, not just the struggles mentioned, but this pandemic as a whole. If we all do our part we can get through this together.

Stay home.