Emergency Remote Instruction During the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Access and Learning Outcomes



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Background: In the spring of 2020, public schools across the United States shut down to in-person learning as a preventative measure and to contain the spread of COVID-19. The abrupt closing of schools led to disruptions in learning for millions of students and the sudden implementation of Emergency Remote Instruction (ERI) in many public-school districts. However, ERI was not accessible to all students due to technology knowledge gaps and limits in resources. Millions of students lacked essential tools such as high-speed internet, a WIFI-enabled device, and a culture of technology at home to engage in authentic learning. Purpose: The study sought to develop an understanding of what the pandemic revealed about virtual learning and student engagement in an urban public school. The study focused on comparing learning outcomes for economically vulnerable, minority race and ethnic groups, and English learner students with those of the primary school population, with the intent to uncover any differences between groups of students. Since historically marginalized groups of students have less access to education and resources, it is important to understand if this trend continued during the pandemic. Methods: The quantitative study examined data on student learning at an urban secondary school including class failure rates, method of learning (in-person or virtual), state test scores across three years, and attendance. Descriptive statistics and correlation tests were used to determine discrepancies between students classified as economically vulnerable, English learners, and minority race and ethnic groups with all other students who were not in the previous three categories, on the campus. Results: The study found that economically vulnerable, English learner, and minority students had less access to resources during remote instruction and had higher class failure rates during ERI. Furthermore, achievement gaps on state standardized tests persisted and followed previous trends. Conclusion: Social equity theory shows that students in historically marginalized groups have less access to essential educational resources, and this trend continued during COVID-19. Leaders in education should understand how COVID-19 has impacted underserved students. Educator training in innovative education technologies is one tool that can be used to target learning gaps for vulnerable students; however, addressing the inequality in access to technology must be addressed first.



Keywords: Emergency Remote Instruction, Education technology, Social equity theory, Learning in the pandemic,