The Potluck

Survey: 40% of families of middle, high school students say not much learning this year

By: - April 28, 2021 2:13 pm

(Photo: Pexels)

Minnesota teachers, families and students identified mental health and learning as top challenges this school year in a new statewide survey.

Overall, teachers were more optimistic than families about how much students learned during the past year of disrupted school. 

The survey asked teachers, administrators, students and family members about the challenges and successes of the first half of the academic year. The results will inform future education planning, according to the report.

More than 11,600 family members, 9,333 educators and 2,988 students responded to the survey, almost one year after Gov. Tim Walz ordered all schools to switch to distance learning. Now, nearly all schools are offering at least some in-person learning, but many switched between distance learning and in-person learning throughout the year.

The pandemic has been difficult for both teachers and students. Researchers say the stress and disruptions have had devastating effects on some students, especially low-income students and students of color.

The survey asked teachers, families and students about the extent they believe students are learning this year — “not at all,” “a little,” “some” or “a lot.”

The majority of teachers — 61% — responded “some” learning. About 1% of teachers responded “not at all,” 15% “a little” and 22% “a lot.”

Families were more likely to give lower estimates of student learning. Ten percent of middle and high school families responded “not at all,” about 30% “a little,” 40% “some” and 21% “a lot.” Student responses were in line with families’. 

Teachers were also more likely to report improvements from spring 2020. More than 70% said students were learning more this year than last spring, compared to about half of families and 41% of students.

Students also identified learning as an issue when asked to select their top three challenges and successes from a list of options spanning health, technology and academics.

Students said keeping up with schoolwork and understanding what they’re learning were top challenges, along with getting help with mental health. When asked what supports they need to learn this school year, they reported clear communication, doable lessons and reliable internet.

Teachers also said mental health was a struggle. “Taking care of my own mental health” was the most common challenge identified by teachers, along with meeting the needs of specific student populations and engaging students in learning — which teachers also reported as a top success.

Teachers said that to be effective this school year they need a manageable workload, help engaging highly disengaged students and mental health support for students and families.

Families responded with concerns about academics, as well. More than half identified supporting students’ learning at home as a challenge, along with getting students support they need from teachers and school staff. 

But a large share of families also reported that teacher and staff support was a success. Families said they need strategies for keeping students engaged in school, more support from teachers and information about expectations for students. 

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.