Federal investigators have confirmed what educators already knew: Few strategies worked to address concerns about students losing academic ground during the school interruptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As schools and districts struggled to operate amid uncertainty and difficult circumstances, students were, not unexpectedly, profoundly affected,” the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Tuesday.
To comply with requirements created by the CARES Act, a federal COVID-19 relief bill, the agency, which reports to Congress, partnered with the Gallup polling organization to conduct a nationally representative survey of 2,900 K-12 teachers about their experiences during the 2020-21 school year. Investigators also held virtual discussion groups with educators, administrators, and parents.
Educators reported challenges in helping students overcome hurdles during the pandemic—what the report calls “learning loss"—whether they taught online, in-person, or in a hybrid of the two modes, the report said. Even those operating in person dealt with issues like quarantines and concerns about student and staff morale.
Among the key findings:
- Remote teachers reported concerns with comprehension. 60 percent of teachers doing remote instruction reported that their students “had more difficulty understanding lessons than in a typical school year.”
- Conditions at home made learning difficult for remote students. “There’s three people in a two bedroom apartment of less than a thousand square feet all trying to be on different Zooms at the same time and have class and that creates all kinds of issues,” one parent told the GAO.
- Barriers extended beyond struggles with online learning. Absences, disruptive behaviors, emotional distress, lack of adequate nutrition, and unreliable internet access were among factors educators identified as “obstacles to learning.”
- Student emotions were a concern for all teachers. Sixty-one percent of teachers the GAO surveyed said they “had more students who experienced emotional distress than in a typical year.”
- Live instruction wins out. Eighty-five percent of in-person teachers said live instruction helped students. In a separate question, fewer than 40 percent of respondents thought asynchronous learning, in which students learn content on their own, “helped the majority of their students.”