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Poll of parents seeks to gauge how pupils faring in pandemic

by Cynthia Howell | January 11, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo, custodial workers clean a classroom at Richard A. Simpson Elementary School in Arnold, Mo. The school went to fully virtual learning on Monday, Nov. 2, after more than 5% of the staff and students tested positive for COVID-19. They will stay virtual at least until Monday, Nov. 16. (Colter Peterson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

About one in every three parents who responded to a recent statewide survey said their children who are learning remotely this school year are learning less than they would in a typical school year.

The perception was worse for those whose children are receiving both in-person and remote instruction. Nearly half of those respondents -- 47% -- said their children are learning less now than they would in a standard school year that is not marked by a pandemic.

As for parents whose children are learning in-person at school, 25% said their students are learning less than they would typically and 75% said their students are learning about the same or more.

Those are some of the results of a survey of 17,816 Arkansas parents -- representing 38,381 students -- that was done Nov. 9-22. Parents were informed about the survey, which was in English and Spanish, through social media, and by principals and superintendents who shared the survey link with parents in their schools.

The survey was developed by the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education's Office for Family Engagement in partnership with the University of Arkansas' Office for Education Policy. They are using it as a way to learn from families what is working in education during the unprecedented covid 19-pandemic and what could be done in the future.

Specifically, the survey identifies family concerns, determines how families are making decisions, assesses family awareness of available options and resources, and solicits family considerations for the future.

A report on the survey results is on the Arkansas Board of Education's agenda for review and possible discussion at the panel's 9 a.m. meeting Friday.

The state survey and report follow an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette-commissioned telephone survey of 605 households of public school students that was done Nov. 5-10. The newspapers reported the results to questions about student learning in different instructional settings on Dec. 27.

The newspaper and state surveys asked similar but not identical questions.

The newspapers asked, for example, how well parents thought their students were learning virtually compared with how they would learn in their regular school settings. Nearly 58% of parents said their students' learning virtually was somewhat or significantly worse than learning in a normal school environment.

In the state study, in response to a similar question, 38% of parents of remote-only students and 47% of parents of students combining online and in-person instruction said the students were learning less than they would in a typical school year.

STAYING ON TRACK

While responses to the state's survey on learning attainment this year varied by instructional setting and by elementary, middle and high schools, the overall results showed that 62% of parents/guardians said their children -- be they remote learners, in-person learners or a combination of remote and in-person learning -- are learning the same or more; 8% said they are learning less; and 8% didn't respond to the question.

Perceptions about their children's learning spins off from parent worries about covid-19, the survey results indicate.

"Parents expressed the greatest concern about making sure their children can stay on track in school," the summary of survey results noted. A total of 73% of the respondents said they worry a lot or worry some about students keeping up with their schooling.

A total of 62% of the parents indicated concern about their children missing social interaction. And 59% were concerned about someone in their families getting the coronavirus that causes the covid-19 illness.

Further, 56% of parent respondents in the state survey were worried about their children's mental health and emotional well-being. Forty-seven percent of the parent respondents said they were worried about their own mental health and emotional state.

Forty-three percent were concerned about household financial demands, and 36% worried about what to do with their school-aged children during the day.

Low-income families -- whose children are eligible for subsidized school meals -- reported higher levels of worry than the overall pool of survey respondents. Forty-one percent of low-income families, for example, worried about what to do with their school-aged children during the day.

REASONS WHY

In response to the survey, 69% of parents or guardians said they were sending their children to school full time. Twenty percent had opted for remote learning, and 10% were using a combination of remote and in-person learning

The survey sought the reasons behind parents' choices for their children's instructional setting. Three-fourths of those sending their children to school were doing so to keep their children on track in learning.

Among parents who selected virtual learning, 84% said the main reason was to reduce the risk of students contracting covid-19.

Those who selected remote learning also had other reasons for doing so -- health concerns for families, convenience for the family, children's enrollment in a virtual program before the pandemic or the students had made the choice of remote instruction. Five percent of those who selected remote instruction for "other reasons" included the disapproval of students wearing masks on campus, according to the survey summary.

The need for social interaction, while also reducing the risk of contracting covid-19, were reasons parents gave for selecting a hybrid model of virtual instruction combined with in-school instruction, according to the survey results.

DEVICES, OTHER RESOURCES

Survey participants were queried about the resources that have been made available to them by their schools. Parents of students in all instructional settings reported in high percentages that they had been provided computing devices -- laptops and electronic tablets. Those percentages ranged from 75% to more than 90% with the remote-learners reporting receipt of devices at higher percentages than in-person students.

Thirty-five percent to 65% of parents reported that their students have access to live, online classes with their teachers. Again, parents of remote-only learners reported the higher percentage of access to live online classes and to teacher-emailed assignments.

Less than a majority of the parent respondents said they had access to pre-recorded video lessons for students, technology support for problems with student devices, self-paced online courses, hot spots or high speed internet for students at home, training or informational sessions for parents, and activities or resources that do not require the use of a computer or internet.

On other matters:

• More than 70% of parents said their schools were doing a good or excellent job in efforts to prevent the spread of covid-19.

• About 66% said their students' schools were doing a good or excellent job in communicating with parents.

• Just over half of parents -- 53% -- thought their schools were doing a good or excellent job of managing online learning programs.

As for the future, 51% of the respondents agreed with the statement that schools should be focused on rethinking how students are educated or coming up with new ways to teach.

In contrast, 47% said schools "should be focused on trying to get back to the way things were before the covid-19 crisis as soon as it is safe to do so." Two percent did not respond to the question. Parents in the central and southeast regions of the state were more likely to agree with rethinking education than were other parts of the state.

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