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Elite San Francisco school sees spike in D's and F's after dropping merit-based admissions

San Francisco’s elite Lowell High School is seeing a record number of failing grades in its fall 2021 class – the first admitted through a new lottery system over its merit-based admissions process

The entrance to the art wing at Lowell High in San Francisco, California
The entrance to the art wing at Lowell High in San Francisco, California | Wikipedia

May 29, 2022 4:43pm

Updated: June 28, 2022 9:59am

San Francisco’s Lowell High School is seeing a record number of failing grades in its fall 2021 class – the first admitted through a new lottery system over its merit-based admissions process.

Of the 620 students in Lowell’s freshman class, 24.4% received at least one D or F in their first semester, according to internal records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is almost triple the number of the first-year students in the two years before – 7.9% in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019. The Chronicle notes that fall 2020 was also the first full semester of remote learning.

The fall 2021 class was chosen primarily based on a lottery instead of a decades-old merit-based system based on test scores and grades, bringing it in line with almost every other high school in the city.

Those who supported the new lottery said the merit-based system was racist because it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students, reports Asian American news site Nextshark. 

Its opponents said it would undermine the academic competitiveness that made Lowell successful and harm Asians, who make up the majority of the school’s student body.

According to district data, Lowell’s number of ninth-graders with a D or F is now closer to numbers at other high schools in the city.

The outgoing Lowell principal, Joe Ryan Dominguez, said that “there are way too many variables that contributed” to the spike in D’s and F’s.

“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,” said Dominguez wrote in an email to 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.”

Dominguez announced his resignation last month citing a lack of “well organized systems, fiscal responsibility and sound instructional practices as the path towards equity.”

San Francisco recently voted out three school board members for prioritizing social justice over reopening schools.