The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of life, but for parents one enormous change meant assuming a larger role than ever in their children’s learning when all Tennessee schools closed in March.
How do parents feel about the disruption caused by relocating learning from classrooms to living rooms and kitchen tables? And what do they think should be done to erase the inevitable loss in learning?
To answer such questions, SCORE, in partnership with Public Opinion Strategies, polled 500 registered voters in Tennessee, two-thirds of them parents with children who are living at home or graduated high school within the past two years.
The poll found nearly unanimous support among Tennessee parents (92 percent) and voters (94 percent) for decisions to close public schools amid COVID-19, and closure was strongly supported by nearly three-fourths of those surveyed (74 percent of voters and 71 percent of parents).
Besides confirming actions already taken, the SCORE survey asked parents what should happen next for Tennessee’s nearly 1 million students, who will lose 50 days or more of instruction — about a third of the academic year. That lost time will be followed immediately by summer break.
Each August teachers and school leaders must combat summer slide, when some student achievement gains made the previous school year evaporate over the break. The problem looms larger than ever this year because of the extended absence from classes. Based on data documenting previous summer learning loss, researchers with NWEA (the nonprofit that creates the widely used MAP assessments) have examined the likely learning impact of the extended COVID-19 shutdown.
Their study projects the COVID-19 closures combined with summer break could mean that students in grades 3-8 start school next year with only about half of the typical learning gains. The learning deficit will be bigger in math and for students who are underserved, and the NWEA research says the loss could amount to as much as a year for some students.
Put simply, for too many kids it will be as if the 2019-20 school year didn’t happen. More than a third of parents we surveyed already are worried about their children falling behind academically. But what to do?
One idea that drew wide support (about three-fourths of those surveyed) was using a statewide assessment this fall to measure student learning loss. A statewide assessment at that time of year would give teachers valuable information about how to guide instruction for their students and would not be used for accountability purposes.
The SCORE poll found that a majority of parents (52 percent) and voters overall (62 percent) support starting the 2020-21 school year early to make up for lost instruction. When poll respondents were asked to identify their first choice from a list of five options for reducing learning loss, starting school in July or August was the top pick, followed by a year-round calendar, extension of the next school year until June 2021, and longer school days.
No doubt, district leaders, principals, and teachers will be thinking about what is best for their students as they weigh options to address learning loss. But the views of parents, educators, and researchers underscore this: Action will be needed to ensure our students can and do catch up on learning in the school year ahead.
Methodology: The SCORE random sample survey was conducted by telephone — half landlines and half cell phones — on April 13-15 by polling firm Public Opinion Strategies and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 points.
Teresa Wasson is director of strategic communications at SCORE.