MOST MASSACHUSETTS PARENTS of K-12 students think their child’s academic performance is at or above grade level – despite statewide data showing that’s not the case.
That stands out as one of the most striking findings from a new poll of Massachusetts parents nearly three years after the COVID pandemic upended school life for the state’s 900,000 students.
The survey, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group for the Education Trust, also found that more than 80 percent of parents give their child’s school an A or B when asked to give it an overall grade, and most parents think their child’s school has enough mental health and academic resources to meet their child’s needs.
Just 24 percent of parents thought their child was behind grade level academically, while 73 percent thought they were at or above that level. The most recent MCAS results, however, paint a very different picture, with 59 percent of 3-8 grade students behind grade level in English and 60 percent behind in math.
“There’s a disconnect between what many parents are seeing and what the size and scope of the challenge is,” said Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, which surveyed 1,519 Massachusetts parents in late November and early December. “What it tells me is there’s not awareness of the challenge COVID has left behind.”
In terms of making up for learning losses, parents were much more interested in help their child could get during regular school hours than in enrolling them in programming outside those hours.
While 74 percent of parents said they would be very or somewhat likely to send their child to small group tutoring during school hours, that figure fell to 66 percent for after-school help, 42 percent for summer school, and 29 percent for tutoring during school vacation weeks.
While 73 percent of parents said their child’s school has enough academic resources to help students who need them, that falls to 56 percent for the subgroup of parents who believe their child is behind grade level academically.
“Parents are really relying on teachers to get a sense of how students are doing,” said Chanthy Lopes, assistant director of communications and engagement for Education Trust in Massachusetts. “Parents don’t necessarily dig into or understand scores. I think there’s opportunity for state leaders to do more to make sure that information is accessible and understandable to families.”
Ed Lambert, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said the poll revealed a pattern that is seen across the country. “National polls have indicated that parents often believe their students are doing better than they actually are doing,” he said. “I think that’s in part because they’re not getting good information from the schools where their children go.”
Lambert said the small share of parents who think their child is behind academically is particularly striking in light of the debate playing out at the state level over how to recover from the steep learning losses that occurred during the pandemic. Last week, the state education department suggested a realistic timeline would be giving schools four years to make up learning losses for those who fell the furthest behind during the pandemic.
Lambert and several members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education criticized the proposed timeline as not nearly ambitious enough to help close achievement gaps.
Koczela, the MassINC Polling Group president, said the new poll results underscore some of the challenge of pushing for more aggressive recovery targets.
“It’s easy to have major reforms when everyone is demanding them,” he said. “It’s hard when parents are dealing with their own struggles and impacts of the pandemic and not prioritizing recovery or even understanding the size of the problem very well, as the data would suggest.”
“At the end of the day, I trust parents, but they have to be properly informed,” said Lambert. “If there’s a general lack of urgency, it’s on those who collect the data, the state, and others, who should be sharing that data in a way that informs parents so they can help drive change and drive urgency on behalf of themselves and their students.”