Illinois Students, Parents and Caregivers Share the Challenges of Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on December 09, 2020

A new report from Advance Illinois highlights the various experiences of students and their families during the pandemic and how state leaders can better serve them in the years ahead.

Taryn Williams
José L. García

CHICAGO, IL – Today, Advance Illinois released its report, Education in a Pandemic: Learning from Illinois Students & Caregivers to Plan for the Road Ahead. The report encapsulates what Illinois’ school communities – including students, parents and caregivers – are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they will require in the long term to recover and rebuild.

“The findings in this report make it abundantly clear that in the years to come, students will need unprecedented academic, social and emotional supports to master the knowledge and skills to succeed in college, career and beyond in the wake of this pandemic,” said Advance Illinois President Robin Steans. “Our state must craft and employ a long-term plan that equitably addresses these needs. We are looking forward to working with advocates and state leaders – including legislators, the governor’s office and the Illinois State Board of Education – to ensure student needs are met.”

With the help of community partners, Advance Illinois organized focus groups and conversations with over 120 students, parents and caregivers from cities, suburbs and rural areas across Illinois. 

“It was important to hear from those who have been directly impacted by school disruptions, as our goal was to put together a report that has the potential to inform and shape policies intended to combat the challenges brought on by the current public health crisis,” said Advance Illinois Director of Community Engagement Jessica Ramos. “It was truly a village effort.” 


As students, parents and caregivers shared their experiences and expectations for the years ahead, three themes emerged throughout the conversations:  

  • Significant support to address students’ social-emotional needs — All focus groups shared worries about the impact of isolation and trauma and called for increased school-based counseling and mental health supports. 
  • Dedicated time and resources to ensure strong academic progress in the coming years — Parents asserted the importance of knowing how their students were performing and progressing in relation to grade-level standards, while students worried about whether they will be academically prepared for what’s next. 
  • Lack of resources will cause students to fall behind — Participants expressed concern that inequities in access to resources will cause some students to fall behind in their classes, damaging their chances of gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to continue on to college and career. 


These conversations can help provide actionable recommendations for education partners and state leaders to consider as the work to equitably serve the students and families of Illinois in the wake of this pandemic. The recommendations are: 

  • Invest in Resource Equity  Investing both state and federal dollars equitably will be key to ensuring Illinois public schools have the resources and supports needed to address the increased academic and social-emotional needs of students in the wake of COVID-19.   
  • Treat Academic and Social-Emotional Learning as Two Halves of the Whole Child  A state plan and distribution of resources to enable recovery from the current crisis must meaningfully address both subject-matter mastery and building trauma-responsive schools. 
  • Create a Comprehensive Recovery and Rebuilding Approach that Takes the Long View  Because this crisis will require focus and decisive action over the next several school years, state leaders should work with diverse stakeholders to develop a bold and comprehensive long-term plan for educational recovery and building back better.  
  • Prioritize Clarity and Consistency — State leaders and advocates must understand the impact of this pandemic on student learning and well-being in order to effectively support Illinois’ students and families in the process of recovery. 

Make Up for Lost Time— As Illinois schools and communities renew and rebuild, students deserve additional time and supports to address this unparalleled social-emotional, mental health and academic crisis in a thoughtful, research-based manner.

This report is part of Advance Illinois’ commitment of keeping students at the center of the organization’s policy and advocacy work. Advance Illinois stands ready to collaboratively work with state leaders and education partners to help ensure a successful future for every Illinois student.

For more details and insights, download Education in a Pandemic: Learning from Illinois Students & Caregivers to Plan for the Road Ahead. Follow us on Twitter


About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more, visit