Report identifies key differences in remote and hybrid learner experiences across the state
New Haven, CT, February 22, 2021 – The Connecticut RISE Network, a nonprofit education support organization that partners with 10 public high schools and nine districts, today released a report that offers a near-real-time line of sight into remote and hybrid learning experiences across the state. Examining enrollment and performance data from students in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year and survey responses from families statewide, RISE offers recommendations to address the emerging trends and spotlights promising practices to support improvement during the second half of the school year.
The report, Plugged In: Examining enrollment trends and learning outcomes during COVID-19, found that students enrolled in remote learning were significantly less likely to be on track to promote to the next grade level when compared to students who opted for hybrid learning models. The lower on-track rates among remote learners signal potential increases in the opportunity divide for historically marginalized communities.
While the data represent a snapshot of a statewide picture, it reveals telling trends in remote enrollment, showing female students, students of color, and special education students were more likely to enroll in remote instruction. With 37% of students enrolled in remote learning and family survey responses indicating remote learning is a compelling option for many families and students, the emerging gaps between remote and hybrid learners require urgent attention and action. To support the improvement of hybrid and remote learning structures and practices during the second half of the 2020-21 school year, RISE offers 15 recommendations for policymakers, educators, and students and families.
With deep partnerships with 10 Connecticut high schools and nine public school districts, RISE is uniquely positioned to provide insights on the range of student and educator experiences throughout the state. As such, this report is an important step in understanding the early learning outcomes associated with remote and hybrid learning, and ensuring that district and school leaders in and beyond the RISE Network are equipped with relevant, timely data to inform planning and decision-making in the coming months. The report also illustrates the local dynamics of national trends showing that across the country students are experiencing higher rates of disengagement and course failure this year.
“As a country, our renewed focus on equity — ensuring all students receive the support they need to succeed — has never felt more urgent or important,” RISE Executive Director Emily Pallin said. “We know students, families, and educators are working incredibly hard, and this past year has required new levels of creativity and perseverance. Moving forward, we must work collaboratively to address the gaps we’re seeing and lift up bright spots in schools, classrooms, and remote settings across the state.”
RISE analyzed enrollment and performance data for more than 12,000 students in Grades 9 through 12, as well as surveyed families within partner districts. The findings revealed the following:
- Significant Remote Enrollment: 37% of students enrolled in remote learning.
- Demographic Differences: Female students, students of color, and special education students were more likely to enroll in remote instruction.
- Connection to Prior Attendance: Though there was no connection to past on-track status, students with prior chronic absenteeism were more likely to enroll in remote learning.
- Low Remote On-Track Rates: 54% of remote students were on-track (vs. 74% of hybrid) by the end of Quarter 1.
- Concerns about Equity Gaps: Taken together, these data create concerns about widening opportunity gaps for some historically marginalized populations.
According to the report, the gaps in performance between remote and hybrid learners cannot be explained by demographics or prior performance, but rather it is likely that something related to remote learning is driving the lower on-track rates among remote learners. The findings underscore new challenges navigating education during the pandemic and the need for additional resources and targeted strategies to better support all students, especially remote learners.
In addition to the student enrollment and performance data, RISE launched a statewide survey to gather parent and family insights into the key factors driving their decisions to select remote or hybrid learning. The survey, which covered health concerns, student engagement, connectivity issues, and other topics, allowed parents and families to answer both qualitative and quantitative questions and to reflect on their and their students’ experiences.
Respondents who chose remote learning for their children said they did so primarily due to health concerns, with family circumstances listed as the most common secondary reason. Parents who chose hybrid education were most concerned with engagement and social-emotional wellbeing. Parents also voiced their concern about the quality of education this year and the risks of learning loss.
“This school year has brought about challenges that none of us could have been fully anticipated. And still educators and families throughout the state are rolling up their sleeves to support students during an unprecedented time,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Conner of Middletown Public Schools said. “This report should serve as a call to action for all leaders, educators, and families. We can all work to ensure that students receive the education they deserve as we look ahead to the spring, summer, and fall.”
Parents who chose hybrid education were most concerned with engagement and socialization. Parents also voiced their concern about the quality of education this year.
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and the challenges and opportunities we’re facing require school communities to come together,” Principal Matt Ryan of East Hartford High School said. “It’s going to take a concerted effort by everyone from policymakers to educators to the students themselves. Everyone has experiences and expertise to share and it will take everyone coming together to improve learning outcomes as we enter the second half of the school year. It’s the school’s job to know every student’s story.”
RISE high schools offer examples of creative ways systems leaders, educators, families, and students are collaborating to support students to stay engaged and on-track. Partner high schools have been using data since the beginning of the school year to identify needs and respond accordingly. The recommendations for district leaders, policymakers, educators, and families underscore the importance of working together and supporting one another during a challenging time. The recommendations call on policymakers to align resources to needs, translate equity talk into action, and avoid new bureaucratic layers. For educators, the recommendations focus on meeting students and families where they are, giving second chances, and addressing social and emotional needs among other steps. For students and families, RISE offers ways to stay engaged and connected as students continue to navigate the hybrid and remote learning structures.
As planning for the second half of the school year is underway, RISE demonstrates how these data give school communities an opportunity to adjust and respond to the emerging trends and student needs. The report and survey responses collected from families statewide do not indicate that remote learning cannot work, only that it requires more resources, continued learning, and additional creative strategies to ensure success for all students.