The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

Online learning reduces student success and lowers a student’s GPA.

April 14, 2020

EdTrust Vice President of Higher Education Policy and Practice Wil Del Pilar, in his piece titled “Thoughts from a Former College Admissions Officer in the COVID-19 Era,” points to an article of online learning as colleges try to provide access to more students. The study answers the question, “As schools [close or] move to an online platform, how will students’ grades be impacted? Some research has shown that online learning reduces student success and lowers a student’s GPA. Given this, institutions should carefully consider students’ GPAs prior to and after, if online learning was implemented, the disruption of their learning.”

According to a different study,Virtual Classrooms: How Online College Courses Affect Student Success,” it appears that “taking a course online, instead of in-person, reduces student success… The estimated effect is a 0.44 grade point drop in a course grade, which amounts to one third of a standard deviation decline.”

Students taking the course in-person earned roughly a B− grade (2.8) on average while their peers in online classes earned a C (2.4). Additionally, taking a course online reduces a student’s GPA the following term by 0.15 points (Bettinger et al.).

The same study says “the negative effect of online course-taking occurs across the distribution of course grades; taking a course online reduces the probability of earning an A or higher by 12.2 percentage points, a B or higher by 13.5 points, a C or higher by 10.1 points, and a D or higher (passing the course) by 8.5 points (results presented in online Appendix Table 4, page 15).

A credit/no credit system alleviates the potential negative consequences for all students who have dreams of attending college. This shift reduces the overwhelming pressure that learning in this environment causes. Staff can administer assessments without having to overly focus on maintaining the integrity of the fine delineations of letter grades. Students can focus on what is needed most at this moment: maintaining their well-being and learning.

We appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts on this critical issue facing our community.


Note: Michelle Bissonnette is an English and Global Connections teacher at Los Altos. David Campbell is a Spanish teacher at Mountain View High School.

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