Less than a quarter of parents in Massachusetts believe their child is behind in grades compared to before the pandemic, even as national and state test scores show dramatic declines in student learning.
A new statewide MassINC poll, sponsored by The Education Trust, shows that only 24% of parents consider their children to be behind in grades. These numbers are higher for parents whose students follow an Individual Education Plan and parents who earn less than $50,000 a year, and lower for Asian parents.
“Most parents don’t understand the magnitude of the challenge,” said MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela. “It’s harder to solve a political problem when the voters most affected aren’t as alarmed as the data might suggest.”
Last year’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, exam showed mixed results compared to 2021 scores. Math and science scores rose, while English language arts fell for the second consecutive year.
“Around the world and across the country, we have seen academic losses caused by the pandemic. Massachusetts is no exception,” state education commissioner Jeffrey Riley said in October. “Although we remain the top performing state…I think it’s fair to say that we have a lot of work ahead of us to address the learning loss our students have suffered.”
Overall, parents gave high marks to their children’s schools, with 40% offering an A grade and 41% a B, according to the survey.
About two-thirds of high school parents (68%) said their child’s school adequately prepares students for life after graduation.
Seven in 10 parents surveyed think their child’s school has enough resources to help students in need, but 56% of parents who consider their children to be behind academically say the same.
Lorie Simmonds, a mother of two students in the Boston public school system and a child in college, said schools didn’t have the resources her 10th grader needed.
“I feel like he’s still catching up,” she said.
Her son is on an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, and has struggled with online learning, she said.
“What he needs is specialist tutoring. If he’s struggling with math, the tutoring should be individual and focused with a tutor who knows what he’s learning,” Simmonds said. “Personally, I feel like schools have tried to use pandemic relief funds to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution instead of saying, ‘We’re going to support individual students’.”
Simmonds also said she felt schools had failed to train teachers to deal with students’ trauma as they returned to the classroom.
“There’s so much going on in the lives of these kids, and a lot of the kids have come back with PTSD and as a result, you know, if you watch the news, there’s a lot of trouble in the schools with fights and disruptive behaviors. They should have trauma-trained teachers,” she said.
About six in 10 parents who responded to the survey gave schools “As and Bs” to ensure that all students who need help with their mental health get it.
Levels of mental health issues have shown a steady decline over the past year but remain high with 44% of parents saying it is still a concern, according to the seventh of these education recovery polls in pandemic cases that MassINC has conducted since 2021.
Meanwhile, 56% of parents say their schools have enough mental health resources and 20% said no.
A Concord Public Schools father of children, who asked to remain anonymous for his children’s privacy, said while his children were doing well academically, his eighth-grader had mental and behavioral health issues .
His child saw a guidance counselor at school, and the father said he was impressed with the resources available to them.
When it comes to extra support, survey respondents prefer activities that take place on days when school is already in session. Small-group tutoring during school days was most popular, with 38% of parents saying they would be “very likely” to send their children, followed by the after-school tutoring option.
“I would like to see an intervention block in my children’s schedules. Not all children can stay after school. Although it sounds great to say that you offer it, it is not something that all kids can do. They might have responsibilities outside of school,” Simmonds said.
While summer school, at 19%, and vacation schooling, at 11%, were the least popular forms of additional support option, parents of color are generally more interested than white parents in this that pupils receive additional academic support during holidays and breaks.
“We know all too well how often families, especially families of color and from low-income backgrounds, are excluded from decision-making,” said Genesis Carela, state policy associate for The Education Trust. “We urge new state and local leaders to support districts by putting in place pandemic recovery plans that elevate the voices of families and communities and prioritize proven strategies that work, including targeted mentoring and intensive, professional learning and support for faculty and staff, and mental health services for students.”
The statewide survey surveyed 1,519 parents of school-age children in Massachusetts, including oversamples of black, Latino and Asian parents to “allow us to dig deeper into the disparate impact of the pandemic more than a representative sample,” Koczela said. It was conducted between November 17 and December 4, 2022 by live telephone and online interviews in English and Spanish.
According to the Education Trust, he “convenes and supports” the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership, a coalition of more than 20 social justice, civil rights and education organizations.