Special Report
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay

Do Students Have What They Need? One Survey Looks to Answer That Question

Understanding the learning resources available to students at home
By Evie Blad — September 14, 2021 4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This story is part of a special project called Big Ideas in which EdWeek reporters ask hard questions about K-12 education’s biggest challenges and offer insights based on their extensive coverage and expertise.

The tumultuous experience of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has given many educators an unprecedented glimpse into their students’ out-of-school lives.

Even before the spring of 2020, most teachers would be quick to agree that students’ resources at home, their access to technology and a quiet place to study always affect their ability to succeed in school. But those factors, and others, took on newfound significance during the pandemic.

Starting in the earliest months of the crisis, schools rushed—through ad hoc surveys and conversations with students and teachers— to assess their students’ ability to learn from home. Could they get online? Were they sharing an iPad with three siblings? Did they have paper to write on?

The Education Week Research Center surveyed 886 K-12 educators in July: Nineteen percent said they knew “a lot” about their students’ home learning environments before the pandemic; 43 percent said they know a lot now. That’s a pretty big jump.

How might schools build on that awareness and use it to improve their future work? A new tool in Oregon might provide some grounds for discussion.

Alongside traditional spring state tests on subjects like math and reading, students there piloted a new survey tool called the Student Educational Equity Development Survey, or SEEDS. The state expects to release initial results from the survey later in the fall.

It builds on years of efforts around the country to expand schools’ understanding of their students’ experiences. Through the “Conditions for Learning” and other school climate surveys, districts like those in Cleveland and Nevada’s Washoe County track students’ feelings of safety, support, and engagement at school. Through social-emotional learning assessments, districts ask students to evaluate their own skills in areas like problem-solving and relationship building.

Oregon’s SEEDS includes such questions and adds another element: access to learning resources. In that section, students answer questions not only about their Wi-Fi access, but also about the conditions at home that can help them with their schoolwork. Do they have books or magazines to read for fun? Do they have access to a flat writing surface, like a desk? Do they have a quiet place to study? Friends or adults who can help them if they get stuck on assignments?

Oregon state officials first got the idea to build a student experience survey when they held listening sessions with teachers, students, and community groups in 2017 to create their plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, said Dan Farley, the director of assessment at the Oregon Department of Education.

The state moved to create that survey during the pandemic.

Oregon hopes its schools will eventually use the SEEDS results to “provide a valuable context to [students’] performance,” said Josh Rew, the lead Oregon psychometrician who helped develop the survey.

To quickly build a collection of reliable, actionable questions during the pandemic, Rew reviewed items included in tools like international benchmark exams, school climate surveys, and even student experience surveys from other continents.

If contagious variants, like Delta, force a return to remote learning in their state, the results may help schools be more prepared.

The aim was to build a flexible instrument that the state can quickly adapt to meet the inevitability of changing circumstances, Farley said.

Oregon officials hope the SEEDS survey will give schools a systemic way of reviewing some simple out-of-school factors so that they can act on them well after the pandemic is over. And, if contagious variants, like Delta, force a return to remote learning in their state, the results may help schools be more prepared.

There are some barriers to collecting such data on a larger scale. In the EdWeek Research Center survey, 69 percent of respondents who indicated they don’t already collect a lot of data said their district doesn’t collect more information about home learning environments because of “difficulties getting families to respond or share information.” In some districts, parents have pushed back when schools asked their children questions about things like social-emotional learning. Some say the questions are too invasive, and those concerns may extend to new questions about home learning environments.

Rew said Oregon officials tried to keep their questions as focused as possible, and the state has developed communications materials to explain the purpose to parents and educators.

“We tried to make sure that we are asking questions that have the most reach, the most actionability, and the most likelihood of changing the system,” Farley said.

There’s a cliché among school leaders that what gets measured is what matters most in schools. But measurement alone doesn’t fix problems, especially those rooted in systemic inequalities, like poverty.

The degree to which Oregon’s effort inspires other states may depend on whether schools find a successful way to use the data to actually change their practices. But, whether or not more schools set up similar formal surveys themselves, the pandemic has provided a valuable reminder that what happens at home matters in schools.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2021 edition of Education Week as Do Students Have What They Need?


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity A School Openly Discusses Race in a State That Bans It
At Millwood High School, discussions on race are everywhere, and students say the lessons are essential.
7 min read
Students pass through the halls in between classes at Millwood High School on April 20, 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Students change classes at Millwood High School this spring in Oklahoma City.
Brett Deering for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Buffalo Massacre Is Exactly Why We Need to Talk About Racism With White Students
Too many white people are receiving their information about race from racist media rather than their schools, writes David Nurenberg.
David Nurenberg
4 min read
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
Equity & Diversity Native American Children Endured Brutal Treatment in U.S. Boarding Schools, Federal Report Shows
Deaths, physical and psychological punishments, and manual labor occurred at the more than 400 federal boarding schools.
5 min read
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School on Dec. 3, 2021, in Tahlequah, Okla. The Interior Department is on the verge of releasing a report on its investigation into the federal government's past oversight of Native American boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the report will come out next month.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School in December, in Tahlequah, Okla. Her agency's report documents harmful conditions, deaths, and physical punishment for Native American students forced to attend federal boarding schools.
Michael Woods/AP
Equity & Diversity Early Transgender Identity Tends to Endure, Study Suggests
Children who begin identifying as transgender at a young age tend to retain that identity at least for several years, a study suggests.
2 min read
Conceptual picture of transgender flag overlaying shadows and silhouettes of anonymous people on a road.
iStock/Getty Images Plus