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Research Questions

  1. Did principals' schools have preparedness indicators (i.e., providing devices to students in need, providing teacher training on online instruction, using learning management systems, offering fully online or blended learning courses, having plans for delivering instruction during a prolonged closure) in place before the pandemic?
  2. How were these pre-pandemic preparedness indicators related to schools' likelihoods of assigning letter grades during the pandemic?
  3. How were these pre-pandemic preparedness indicators related to principals' concerns about providing equitable instruction?
  4. How were these pre-pandemic preparedness indicators related to principals' expectations of disadvantaged students' achievement in fall 2020?

The emergence of COVID-19 in the United States in spring 2020 forced nearly all U.S. schools to transition rapidly to remote learning. However, a minority of U.S. public schools were prepared for a crisis on the level of COVID-19. Using responses to the American Educator Panels, RAND researchers investigate how schools' pre-pandemic planning translated into remote learning practices and principals' confidence in student achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Principals detailed the infrastructure preparations that their schools had made before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Specifically, principals were asked whether, before the pandemic started, their schools had undertaken the following five practices:

  1. providing devices (e.g., laptops, tablets) to, at a minimum, those students who need them
  2. training teachers on delivering online instruction
  3. using a learning management system
  4. providing fully online or blended learning courses
  5. establishing plans to deliver instruction during a prolonged school closure.

Principals also noted whether their teachers graded students' work and whether they felt concerns about their schools' provision of equitable instruction during the pandemic. They also gave predictions of student achievement for various student subgroups in the coming school year.

Principals whose schools were more prepared were also more comfortable continuing to assess student learning with letter grades during the COVID-19 pandemic and had fewer concerns about providing equitable instruction. It will be important to continue to document schools' instructional practices to fully understand the conditions that are needed to ensure equitable access to high-quality instruction.

Key Findings

Most schools had some preparation indicators in place, but most did not have all indicators

  • Most principals (84 percent) reported that their school had at least one preparedness indicator in place pre-pandemic — but very few principals (7 percent) reported having all five.
  • More secondary schools than elementary schools had indicators of preparedness.
  • The level of school poverty was not correlated with the number of pre–COVID-19 preparedness indicators that schools had at the outset of COVID-19.

Most schools did not have plans in place for a prolonged school closure

  • Of the five pre-pandemic preparedness indicators, schools were most likely to have provided students with devices; they were least likely to have plans for a prolonged school closure.

The more preparedness indicators a school has, the more confident principals are in providing instruction

  • Principals in more-prepared schools (as measured by the number of preparedness indicators schools had in place pre-pandemic) were more likely to assign letter grades to students during the pandemic, even after controlling for differences in school characteristics.
  • Principals in more-prepared schools had less concern about failing to provide equitable instruction to all students.
  • Principals in more-prepared schools were less likely to predict lower future achievement for students from low-income families and students experiencing homelessness.

Research conducted by

Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. This research was conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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