Updated national student survey shows improvements compared to spring 2020

In July 2020, YouthTruth released a national report that surveyed more than 20,000 students about their learning and well-being during that first wave of school closures, Students Weigh In: Learning & Well-Being During COVID-19. Although intended to be a standalone report, the organization has now expanded it to three parts due to the continuing disruption of the pandemic and a need to hear directly from students.

This second report in the Students Weigh In series shares survey findings from more than half a million secondary students in 952 schools across 37 states during three time periods: pre-pandemic, spring 2020 and fall 2020. The data, which includes the responses of 62,996 secondary and 22,174 upper elementary students surveyed between September and December 2020, was gathered through a 15-minute online survey, administered in English and Spanish.

Key findings:

  1. Sixty-one percent of students said they learn a lot every day — up from 39 percent in the spring and on par with pre-pandemic levels. For students in distance learning, 87 percent said they could access their schoolwork, the same proportion of students reported that they were able to do so in fall 2020. Slight variations occur among student groups access, however, with 84 percent of English learners, 91 percent of non-English learners, 86 percent of special education students and 91 percent of non-special education students reporting that they could access their coursework.
  2. Students’ biggest obstacles to distance learning are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious (46 percent). Hispanic or Latinx, multiracial and Black students faced more obstacles on average than did white or Asian students. Other obstacles include distractions at home and family responsibilities (44 percent), student’s health or health of family members (28 percent) and limited or no access to internet (26 percent). Compared to their peers, a higher proportion of Latino students and low-income students said they had limited or no internet access. Thirty percent of Latino students said limited or no internet access was an obstacle, compared to 23 percent of their peers. Similarly, 27 percent of low-income students cited this obstacle, relative to 20 percent of their peers.
  3. Students reported an increased sense of belonging compared to spring 2020, and students experienced increased academic support from their teachers. Many students felt the rug yanked out from under them last spring with school closures, which was reflected in only 30 percent of students saying they really felt like a part of their school’s community, compared to 43 percent in fall 2019. Perhaps in credit to the resilience of students, in fall 2020 students’ sense of belonging rebounded to pre-pandemic levels and more — with 49 percent of students reporting they really feel like a part of their school’s community.
  4. Male students continued to rate their health and well-being more positively than did females and students who identify in another way. Overall, students reported less availability from adults in school to support their mental and emotional health, but more programs and services. Both secondary and elementary students were surveyed about various aspects of their health and well-being. When secondary students were asked if they had an adult to turn to if they were feeling upset, stressed or having problems, 41 percent said yes — a decrease from 46 percent pre-pandemic. However, 43 percent of students reported that their school has programs or services that can help — an increase from 37 percent prior to the pandemic.
  5. Postsecondary plans have changed since the start of the pandemic for 25 percent of high school seniors. Seniors who reported being more affected by the pandemic were also more likely to report that their postsecondary plans had changed (36 percent versus 21 percent). Changes in seniors’ plans also varied by race/ethnicity and by socioeconomic status. Eighteen percent of white students said their plans have changed, relative to 30 percent of other students. Additionally, 28 percent of seniors receiving free and reduced-price lunch reported changing their plans, compared to 19 percent of other students.

Read the full report, which includes qualitative responses to five questions:

What do you like most about your school?

What do you dislike most about your school?

What about learning at home do you like?

Are there things you hope will stay the same next school year?

What about learning at home do you find challenging? How can your school help?