Kim Gibbons
Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI)

The COVID-19 pandemic has permeated all aspects of our daily lives since March 6, 2020 when Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-01 declaring a peacetime emergency.  It seems like there isn’t a single area that has been spared ranging from healthcare, the economy, our social lives, all levels of the educational system, entertainment, travel, to the political landscape.  As educators, we’ve had to become adaptive and nimble in ways that most of us have never experienced.  As the state’s land grant institution, The University of Minnesota has been working to gather information to assist educators in gathering information to help inform state and local decision making.  The Wisconsin Minnesota Comprehensive Center (WMCC) located within CAREI analyzed over 300 district distance learning plans and conducted 33 focus groups comprised of multiple stakeholders in the spring to help identify strengths, barriers, and potential solutions in the delivery of instruction.  During the summer, the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) developed and disseminated a survey to gain feedback from educators to inform the University on how the CEHD might be helpful in providing supports to PK-12 schools and share that feedback with the state as a whole.   A total of 13,077 educators representing 409 Districts and Charter Schools across the state of Minnesota responded to the survey. As a result, multiple sources of data converged to generate several themes.

Themes Across Data Sources

  1. Relationships Matter: Educators’ number one worry was relationship building and the ability to socially connect and engage with students and
  2. Technology is Important: Technology was a significant concern and hardware, internet connectivity, and technology support needs contributed to inequities across the state.
  3. Educators are Worried: Educators were significantly worried about many factors related to learning in the 2020-2021 school year, from how they will build relationships in distance learning to how they will be able to stay healthy in in-person
  4. Equitable Access to High-Quality instruction: Educators reported great concern about whether they can meet students’ needs academically, socially, and emotionally through distance learning. They were particularly worried about students receiving special education services, multilingual learners, and traditionally marginalized students.
  5. Learning Occurred for Educators: While distance learning presented many challenges, educators also reported that there were lessons learned and skills acquired that they would carry with them into whatever this school year brings and, eventually, their classrooms.
  6. Assessing Student Outcomes: Many districts are experiencing challenges with assessing student outcomes.  Grading remains a consistent theme across all sources of information, and there is a need for guidance on high quality, equitable practices around grading and administering assessments. Schools have had a challenging time assessing for proficiency and monitoring students’ progress.  

Our Current Reality

Currently, the pandemic rages on and continues to require the educational system to be adaptive and flexible. However, we are in a much better place to respond and adapt given our past experiences.  To that end, CAREI is working to address some key themes listed above and provide resources and guidance to address these needs.

Building relationships and increasing student engagement

Recognizing educator’s needs to specifically address the social-emotional needs of students, families, and staff, CAREI developed a professional learning sequence focused on recovery and redesign with an intentional focus on the whole child.  This is an on-demand self-paced course that includes seven short video modules focused on (1) key ingredients of a whole child recipe for recovery and redesign, (2) educator stress, coping and resilience, (3) cultivating healthy social connections, (4) establishing and teaching shared expectations and routines, (5) teaching and learning to promote student emotional well-being, (6) reflective practices and data-based decision making to promote equity, and (7) sustained action to acknowledge and address issues of racism. More information is available on the CAREI website.

Assessing Student Outcomes

Due to the absence of 2020 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment data and the challenges being reported by districts in assessing student learning, the WMCC will be partnering with the Minnesota Department of Education to develop specific guidance for districts on how to assess student learning across in-person, hybrid, and distance learning modules.  In addition, protocols will be developed to guide districts in their review of student learning and strategies will be shared around how to help close any gaps in learning due to the pandemic.   This information will be provided in a variety of formats including rapid topical briefs, webinars, videos, and data protocols. 

Continuous Improvement

The WMCSS will be partnering with the Minnesota Department of Education to develop and deploy surveys for educators, families, and students to aid in monitoring system progress toward identifying successes, challenges, communication and learning.  We anticipate surveys to be available to administer Winter, Spring, and Fall 2021 with state and district level reports available.

The University of Minnesota wants to identify ways we can be helpful to the educational community.   However, the University is a large system, and I often hear that it is difficult to know who to call. I would encourage you to think of CAREI as the entry point.  Please feel free to reach out to me at or 651-303-4141 with any questions, and I can help direct you to appropriate resources. 

Resource Links

CEHD Survey Results

Focus Group Summary

Distance Learning Summary

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