Top San Francisco High School Ended Merit-Based Admissions Policy. In The Semester Since, More Students Received Failing Grades.
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In the first semester since a top San Francisco high school ended its merit-based admissions policy and moved to a lottery system, teachers gave three times the number of D and F grades than they did before the policy change.

Lowell High School gained national attention in February 2021 when the San Francisco Board of Education voted to end its merit-based admissions policy and enact a random lottery instead, The Daily Wire reported at the time. The new admissions policy was enacted, the board said, due to COVID-19 lockdowns that disrupted learning, leading to lower grades and test scores for students looking to enter Lowell.

The new policy went into effect for the fall semester, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Of the 620 students in Lowell’s freshman class, 24.4% received at least one D or F grade during the fall semester, compared with 7.9% of first-year students in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019, according to internal San Francisco Unified School District figures.”

The number of ninth-graders at the school receiving a failing grade tripled from 51 in the fall of 2020 to 152 in 2021.

The school’s principal, however, insisted that the increase in failing grades could not be blamed on the new admissions policy, saying “there are way too many variables that contributed” to the increase.

“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,” principal Joe Ryan 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.”

As the Chronicle noted, Lowell students in grades 10 through 12 – which were admitted under the merit-based system – also saw an increase in low grades, however, those increases were slight.

“Despite the increase, Lowell was basically tied with Mission High School for the lowest percentage of ninth-graders receiving at least one D or F grade in the fall among the seven public high schools with at least 200 freshman students, according to district data. Including students in all four grade levels, Lowell had the lowest percentage receiving a D or F last semester,” the outlet added.

Opponents of the new admissions policy said it erases the hard work of the students who have previously been admitted. One woman took to Twitter to criticize the new policy.

“6 hours of meeting culminated in this, the decision to gut the admissions protocol for San Francisco’s only nationally competitive public school. I’ve listened to a lot of the meetings leading up to this, so I’ve heard a lot of kids say they worked hard for a spot here. Gone. The basis for this decision was that Lowell’s merit-based admissions system was racist, despite the fact that the school is <17% white and majority Asian, representing many families that cannot afford private schooling,” the woman wrote.

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