Report indicates heavy burden on teachers, significant support for educators as a result of COVID-19; urges schools to focus on four Rs—rigor, routines, relationships, and resources

In the sudden transition this spring from face-to-face learning to remote learning, U.S. students were subject to more assignments and schoolwork, but less challenging academic activities. At the same time, parents and students felt anxiety about whether students would be ready to enter a new grade or prepared for future learning and work.

These are among the findings of a new report, Upended Learning: Key Findings on the Impact of Remote Schooling, released today by the nonprofit Cognia. Based outside Atlanta, Cognia serves as the world’s largest accreditor and a national leader in assessment and continuous improvement. The report analyzes surveys of more than 74,000 students, parents, and teachers from the United States and 22 other countries.

The results of the surveys, which were conducted between late April and the end of June 2020, reveal that students were given academic work that was either too easy or that reviewed previous content.

  • Eight in 10 students reported having more work to do in a remote setting than in their previous classrooms.
  • Two-thirds of parents (67%), six in ten students (60%), and almost all teachers (94%) said that assignments were either “new and easy” or “something already learned [or taught].”
  • The teacher survey revealed that teachers typically focused on preparing instructional activities and assignments for students and had other significant new responsibilities. During remote learning, most teachers (70%) reported spending more time preparing instructional activities than they did for activities in face-to-face classrooms.

Parents and students participating in the surveys said they were worried that students will not be fully prepared for the next grade or for college or work.

  • Most parents (57%) reported they are worried or sometimes worried about their children’s preparation moving forward.
  • More than six in 10 students (61%) said that, “most days” or “some days”, they were worried about not being prepared for the next year of school.
  • High school (67%) and middle school students (63%) were far more likely to say they were worried about the coming year than students in elementary school (54%).

“We’ve long assumed that students were not academically challenged this spring, but now we have the data to prove it,” says Dr. Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of Cognia. “The surveys showed that students were kept busy but not challenged with online instruction, and that, largely as a result, they and their parents feel anxious about their future.”

“In the sudden shift to remote learning environments, everything about schools—the standard routines, schedules, norms, practices, and expectations—was upended,” Elgart says. “Teachers had to adapt their instruction to a new learning modality, explore entirely new ways of teaching and scheduling, and be constantly available to address the social and emotional needs of students and parents. This came at a cost not only to the tens of thousands of students who could not get online and are falling further behind, but also to all students who received a lot of busy work.”

“As teachers settle into the new school year, the first order of business for schools is to help teachers address the four Rs—rigor, routines, relationships, and resources,” according to Elgart.

The report quantifies the difficulties students, teachers, and parents experienced in the shift to online learning.

  • Most students (71%) and parents (80%) agreed that students felt lonely “most days” or “some days.” Most students reported missing school and said that they missed not saying goodbye to classmates and teachers “most of the time” or “sometimes.
  • More than 4 in 10 parents said that their child[ren] lacked regular routines. Research says that these routines help maintain order, reduce student anxiety, and encourage students to remain motivated, engaged, and focused on learning.
  • Four in 10 parents found that helping their children at home was more difficult than they expected.
  • A large percentage of teachers (42%) said that remote teaching was harder than expected and 98% agreed that they had to learn new skills (77% agree, 21% somewhat agree). Almost all teachers indicated they missed their school life (99%), felt disconnected from colleagues (90%), and missed their students’ participation in school events (96%).

The surveys were conducted by Cognia’s Innovation Lab, an incubator of new initiatives, tools, and services that strengthen the continuous improvement efforts of the 36,000 schools and districts from the United States and 85 countries that make up Cognia’s network.

A total of 74,116 respondents participated — 38,739 students, 32,487 parents, and 2,890 teachers from the United States and 22 other countries.

Additional findings

Other important findings of the report revealed:

  • Outpouring of support for teachers. The report indicates an outpouring of support by parents and students for what teachers accomplished and, by teachers, for the support they received from principals and school leaders.
  • Burden on parents and guardians. Many parents (38%) found that helping children was harder than expected. Elementary students were almost twice as likely to lean on someone at home for support with their assignments than other students (43% vs. 23% overall) and high school students were about four times less likely to look for support at home than students on average (6% vs. 23% overall).
  • Technology gap. About 1 in 10 students in the sample reported having some or no access to technology and electronic devices, such as laptops or mobile hotspots. The percentage of students lacking access is unacceptable—a structural inequity that resulted in too many students with inadequate access to equitable educational opportunities.

What schools can do

The challenges identified by the survey provide a context for what schools need to do as we move into the second year of learning in a remote environment the ongoing pandemic. Specifically, states, districts, and schools need to address the 4 Rs:

  • Rigor, by expanding professional learning to help teachers adapt to online instruction and set expectations, introduce digital learning content and tools, and redesign instruction, and to enable teachers to spend more time with students without being in their presence.
  • Routines, by ensuring that there are routines that set expectations, help students focus, and create the structure for rigorous online instruction, to be used with consistency within classrooms, within grade-levels, and from one peer teacher to another.
  • Relationships, by building on the groundswell of support for teachers from parents and the powerful connections teachers have established with students by: a) engaging both students and parents in the learning process, b) supporting teacher-to-teacher interaction, and c) fostering the social-emotional well-being of students, parents, and teachers.
  • Resources, by closing gaps in equity to ensure that all students are connected to the internet and the school portal and by ensuring adequate staffing and other resources. Teachers need training and support to make effective use of technology, teaching and learning supports, and assessment tools. Responsive support and adequate resources are more important than ever, given the expanded expectations of teachers’ roles.

About Cognia

Cognia is a global, nonprofit improvement organization dedicated to helping institutions and other education providers grow learners, teachers, and leaders. Cognia offers accreditation and certification, assessment, and professional services within a framework of continuous improvement. Serving 36,000 public and private institutions from early learning through high school in more than 90 countries, Cognia brings a global perspective to advancing teaching and learning.