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Changes in School Climate During COVID-19 in a Sample of Pennsylvania Schools

by Whitney Kozakowski, Katlyn Lee Milless, Sonia Alves and Michelle Bennett

The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE’s) Office for Safe Schools partnered with REL Mid-Atlantic to conduct a study using data from PDE’s school climate survey. This survey, which is available on a voluntary basis to any school in the state, provides a way to track school climate and identify schools that need additional support to improve school climate. The REL study analyzed changes in scores from a pre-pandemic year (2018/19) to the 2020/21 and 2021/22 school years, both of which were affected by COVID-19 and related policy changes. In a sample of Pennsylvania public schools that took the survey consistently across multiple years, students and teachers reported more positive perceptions of school climate in the 2020/21 school year, during hybrid and remote learning, compared to 2018/19 and 2021/22. This was an unexpected positive bump in the year in which schools experienced the most pandemic-related disruption. In contrast, school climate scores were steady across the years before COVID-19. The study also found no evidence of a significant decline in school climate scores between 2018/19 and 2021/22, suggesting the pandemic did not have a lasting negative effect on school climate in this sample of schools. One important caveat of this study is that the sample of schools was small and not representative of the rest of the state of Pennsylvania. The study also examined the relationship between school climate scores in 2021/22 and the amount of virtual and hybrid instruction used during 2020/21 and found no association. However, this analysis was limited by the small sample size and could only rule out a large association; a small or moderate association is still possible.

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