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Psychiatry Faculty Investigate COVID-19's Impact on Connecticut Schools

March 02, 2023

Four Yale Department of Psychiatry faculty and affiliates collaborated with colleagues from University of Connecticut on a statewide study that investigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning and well-being and recovery efforts in Connecticut’s schools.

The study report was recently released by the Center for Connecticut Education Research Collaboration (CCERC), formerly the Connecticut COVID-19 Education Research Collaborative. CCERC was initially formed to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to mitigate it, on educational outcomes across the state.

Faculty from Yale School of Medicine and UConn led the study. Representing the Yale Department of Psychiatry were Michael Strambler, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry (Principal Investigator); Joy Kaufman, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry; Joanna Meyer, MAT, Assistant Director of Child Wellbeing and Education Research at The Consultation Center; and Amy Griffin, MA, Director of Health Evaluation Initiatives at The Consultation Center. Representing the University of Connecticut were Stephen Ross, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and Michael Young, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Educational Psychology.

The study had four main goals, including:

  • Document the implementation of remote learning models by local and regional boards of education during the first two school years impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Document how districts supported learning and student wellbeing;
  • Document how districts supported teaching and teacher wellbeing;
  • Examine links between learning conditions and student outcomes, including absenteeism and academic performance.

Among the findings:

  • Most districts reported providing partially or fully synchronous remote instruction during spring 2020, with only slight variation across grade levels. In contrast, most teacher survey and focus group participants reported that they provided fully asynchronous instruction during this period.
  • Districts reported that despite all efforts, in May 2020, approximately one-third of students were accessing remote learning less than half the time it was provided. Many teacher survey and focus group participants believed that student disengagement resulted from inadequate adult supervision and other family concerns.
  • Depending on their grade level and district type, teacher survey respondents reported that in the spring of 2020, 29-55 percent of their students were progressing with grade level learning and 41-59 percent of their students were in touch with their teachers daily.
  • Focus group and teacher survey participants reported that their well-being suffered from constant changes in class scheduling, pressing student and parent needs, shifting COVID guidelines, fear for their personal health, and absences due to teacher and student quarantines. They shared that these factors created a chaotic and stressful environment, yet they received inadequate support for their well-being from their school or district administrations.
  • The pandemic was associated with reduced school enrollment in fall 2020, especially among the lower grades.
  • In the lower grades, schools with the lowest share of in-person days during the 2020-21 school year had the largest declines in ELA and Math test scores. However, differences in 11th grade SAT scores based on share of in-person days were not observed.
  • Schools with lower shares of in-person days during the 2020-21 school year had lower attendance rates. This was most pronounced in grades 2-5. Declines in attendance were smaller when students had more opportunity for in-person learning, especially in elementary and middle school.

The research team recommended that the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) develop a statewide plan for potential disruptions to in-person learning that focuses on lessons learned about effective practices during the pandemic and includes input from a diverse group of administrators, educators, and parents. The recommendations for such a plan included:

  • Provide resources and guidance to support safe in-person learning;
  • Ensure that all districts have adequate instructional technology, professional development, and curriculum resources for remote or hybrid instruction;
  • Carefully consider the challenges of concurrent hybrid instruction;
  • Practically assess student academic progress and social-emotional wellbeing;
  • Provide adequate resources to support student academic and social-emotional well-being.

The Yale Department of Psychiatry will continue its support of and partnership with CCERC for the next two years, as three faculty members were recently selected for leadership roles in current statewide research projects on teachers and educators (Kaufman) and social, emotional and mental health (Strambler and Connors).

Kaufman (PI) is partnering with Drs. Alexandra Lamb and Jennie Weiner at the University of Connecticut and Dr. Jacob Werblow at Central Connecticut State University on Theories of Action in ARP-ESSER Plans. As stated on the CCERC website, this project aims to understand the theories of action embedded in the ARP-ESSER proposals submitted by districts.

Michael Strambler (Co-PI) is partnering with Drs. Sandra Chafouleas (PI), Latoya Haynes-Thoby at the University of Connecticut, and Dr. Lee Morgan at Sacred Heart University on Identifying Effective and Equitable Socio-Emotional Supports for Students and Educators. As described by CCERC, the purpose of this mixed methods project is to explore how school districts are supporting equitable socio-emotional wellbeing of students, teachers, administrators, and communities with particular focus on the impact of COVID-19.

Elizabeth Connors, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry (Co-PI), is partnering with Dr. Carolyn Lin (Co-PI) at the University of Connecticut on the Evaluation of the Learner Engagement and Behavioral Health Pilot (BHP). CCERC states that this study is designed to evaluate quality improvement efforts of seven identified school districts in Connecticut who will use BHP funds to develop and pilot test new systems to meet the behavioral health needs of students, families, and staff.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on March 02, 2023