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Most public school leaders, 92%, indicated at least some level of concern about their students meeting academic standards, according to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the statistical center within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

In addition, 80% of school leaders reported some level of concern about issues related to staffing shortages, such as increased class sizes or staff doing work outside of their intended duties.

“We know that the job of public school leaders has become increasingly complex and there is a constellation of challenges that keep them up at night,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “What they are telling us through this latest School Pulse Panel survey is that the majority of them have some level of concern related to important issues that we asked them about, with most (92%) saying they were concerned about students meeting academic standards and 8 in 10 saying they were concerned about issues related to staffing shortages.”

About 4 in 10 school leaders said they were “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about their students’ mental health (43%) and the mental health of their teachers or staff (41%). In fact, 27% of respondents said they were “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about their own mental health. Next month’s School Pulse Panel data release will delve deeper into mental health services available to students and staff in public schools.

Additionally, the latest School Pulse Panel survey provides insights on school leaders’ perceptions of state-mandated assessments, as well as social and emotional skills development in schools, which in recent years has become a growing area of attention in public education.

Eighty-five percent of public schools agreed that the culture at their school supports the development of students’ social and emotional skills in school, with 49% of schools indicating they “strongly agree” that this is the case. About two-thirds of schools (63%) use a formal curriculum designed to support the development of students’ social and emotional skills, the data show.

Among those schools with a formal curriculum, 27% said it has been “very effective” or “extremely effective” at improving student outcomes and 72% said time limitations were a barrier to implementing the curriculum.

Leaders of public schools that participate in state-mandated testing for mathematics (96%) or for English language arts and literacy (96%) were asked about the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements related to the main state-mandated tests that their students will be given during the 2023-2024 school year.

Approximately two-thirds of these public schools “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that they support the use of these assessments to measure student mastery of state standards, with 66% for English language arts and 62% for math. About three-quarters “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that the assessments will provide useful data to inform classroom instruction (75% for ELA and 74% for math).

However, about two-thirds of public schools agreed that state-mandated testing in math and ELA will not accurately measure the ability of students with individualized education plans (IEPs) (68% for ELA and 67% for math) or who are English Learner (EL/ELL/ESL) students (68% for ELA and 67% for math).

The findings are part of an experimental data product from the School Pulse Panel, NCES’s innovative approach to delivering timely information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on public K-12 schools in the U.S. The data, collected between Feb. 13 and 27 of 2024, came from 1,689 participating public K-12 schools from every state and the District of Columbia.

Key Findings

Concerns From School Leaders and Parents

  • Eighty-five percent of public schools reported that parents/guardians have expressed concerns about bullying and/or cyberbullying during the 2023-2024 school year. This estimate includes 32% that reported hearing this concern from “several” or “many” parents/guardians.
  • Eighty-two percent of public schools reported that parents/guardians have expressed concerns about their child’s mental health during the 2023-2024 school year. This estimate includes 40% that reported hearing this concern from “several” or “many” parents/guardians.
  • Sixty-nine percent of public schools reported that parents/guardians have not expressed concerns about the school curriculum during the 2023-2024 school year.
  • Ninety-five percent of public school principals or vice principals (or those in similar positions) reported some level of concern about the mental health of students at their school. This estimate includes 43% who reported being “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about this issue.
  • Ninety-one percent of public school principals or vice principals (or those in similar positions) reported some level of concern about the mental health of the teachers or staff at their school. This estimate includes 41% who reported being “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about this issue.
  • Sixty-nine percent of public school principals or vice principals (or those in similar positions) reported some level of concern about their own mental health. This estimate includes 27% who reported being “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about this issue.
  • Ninety-two percent of public school principals or vice principals (or those in similar positions) reported some level of concern about students meeting academic standards. This estimate includes 41% who reported being “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about this issue.
  • Eighty percent of public school principals or vice principals (or those in similar positions) reported some level of concern about issues related to staffing shortages, such as increased class sizes or staff doing work outside their intended duties. This estimate includes 36% who reported being “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about this issue.

Social and Emotional Skills

  • Eighty-five percent of public schools agreed that the culture at their school supports the development of students’ social and emotional skills in school. This estimate includes 49% of public schools that “strongly agree” with this statement and 36% that “somewhat agree.”
  • Eighty-six percent of public schools agreed that the school’s disciplinary practices reinforce students’ social and emotional skills. This estimate includes 46% of public schools that “strongly agree” with this statement and 40% that “somewhat agree.”
  • Sixty-one percent of public schools agreed that the parents/guardians of their students support the development of students’ social and emotional skills in school. This estimate includes 16% of public schools that “strongly agree” with this statement and 45% that “somewhat agree.”
  • Sixty-three percent of public schools reported using a formal curriculum designed to support the development of students’ social and emotional skills.
    • Among public schools with a formal curriculum, 27% reported that their curriculum has been “very effective” or “extremely effective” at improving student outcomes.
    • Among public schools with a formal curriculum, 72% reported that time limitations are a barrier to implementing the curriculum.
  • Compared to the national estimate (63%), lower percentages of schools with the following characteristics reported using a formal curriculum designed to support the development of students’ social and emotional skills:
    • Schools with 0 to 25% students of color (56%)
    • High/secondary schools (43%)
    • Schools with 1,000 or more students (43%)
  • Compared to the national estimate (63%), a higher percentage of elementary schools (74%) reported using a formal curriculum designed to support the development of students’ social and emotional skills.
  • Among public schools that do not have a formal curriculum, the most commonly cited reasons for not implementing a formal curriculum were time limitations (46%), a lack of funding (37%), and a lack of materials and resources (34%).

State Assessment Perceptions

  • Leaders of public schools that participate in state-mandated testing for mathematics (96%) or for English language arts and literacy (96% for ELA) were asked about the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements related to the main state-mandated tests that their students will be given during the 2023-24 school year.
    • Around 60% of these schools “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement “I support the use of the current statewide tests to measure student mastery of state [subject] standards” (66% for ELA; 62% for Math).
    • Around three-quarters of these schools “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement “Results from state-mandated [subject] tests will provide useful data to inform classroom instruction” (75% for ELA; 74% for math).
    • More than 40% “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement “The work we will do to prepare our students for the state-mandated [subject] test will take time away from other more important classroom work” (47% for ELA; 44% for math).
    • A majority of public schools believe that state-mandated testing will not accurately measure the ability of students with IEPs or who are English Learners (EL/ELL/ESL). About two-thirds “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” with this viewpoint for students with IEPs (68% for ELA; 67% for math) and for English learners (68% for ELA; 67% for math).
    • One-third of public schools reported the belief that the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects will have a “large negative impact” on their students’ performance on state-mandated testing this school year (33% for ELA; 33% for math).
      • Compared to the national estimates (33%), higher percentages of public schools with the following characteristics responded “large negative impact” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects on student performance on state-mandated ELA or math testing:
        • Schools with 76% or more students of color (45% for ELA; 45% for math)
        • Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods (44% for ELA; 43% for math)
        • Schools in the West (41% for math)
      • Compared to the national estimates (33%), lower percentages of schools with 0-25% students of color (23% for ELA; 23% for math) responded “large negative impact” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects on student performance on state-mandated ELA and Math testing.
Additional details regarding the methodology, including survey questionnaire may found on the School Pulse Panel methodology webpage.
Read the full news release on the findings.