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Students Report Greater Appreciation for Their Teachers and Education Due to Pandemic Experiences

Students who would be first-generation collegegoers suffered greatest negative effects from pandemic 

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Despite the negative effects of the pandemic on the academic achievement of high school students, they reported an enhanced appreciation for education and for the significant efforts of their teachers to support students and their learning during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an issue brief released today by ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the college readiness exam.

“The pandemic’s profound toll on many students’ academic achievement is well documented, yet this survey shows us how the pandemic has affected students’ attitudes and thinking about a variety of other important parts of their lives,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said. “And what is striking is seeing from students first-hand how educators in schools across this country continued to do their best to provide a high-quality education despite the many unprecedented challenges of the 2020-21 school year. These students saw how we already have the most dedicated teachers in the world. As the country struggles with a teacher shortage, we need to do more to keep the high-quality teachers we have, and to convince new generations of talent to join the teaching profession.”

Among the surveyed students, many of whom are now preparing to graduate after experiencing the effects of the pandemic for all four years of high school:
  • Forty-two percent felt the pandemic had a positive effect on how much they appreciated their education.
  • More than half (52%) reported that they had more appreciation for their teachers.
Students had more opportunities to engage with digital/online tools in learning due to the pandemic, and six out of 10 (61%) indicated that their abilities to use digital/online tools for learning improved. About 62% of students also reported that they became more independent or self-reliant during the first year of the pandemic.

“Although most students experienced challenges and obstacles in different aspects of learning, they also gained some new perspectives and skills,” said Dr. Joyce Z. Schnieders, ACT research scientist and author of the issue brief. “When students looked back at their experiences during the first year of the pandemic, they recognized that they became more independent learners with better abilities to use digital tools for learning, and they had more appreciation for their education opportunities and their teachers. Students learned to rely more on themselves and try to fulfill their responsibilities in learning after the pandemic started.”
The negative effects of the pandemic were unevenly distributed. Students whose families had no college experience reported more negative effects of the pandemic compared to other students. If these students enter college, they will become first-generation college students. First-generation college students were found to have more challenges than their peers after the pandemic started, including financial hardships, food and housing insecurity, and mental health disorders. To support this group of students moving forward, schools and educators need to expand supports and offer additional resources, such as helping them find scholarship opportunities, offering career development resources, and providing accessible mental health services. The American College Application Campaign is increasing the number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families who pursue a postsecondary degree by supporting high school seniors as they navigate the college application and admissions process and ensuring each participating student submits at least one admissions application.

Key findings:
  • Most students (85%) strongly or moderately agreed that grade-level academic knowledge and skills were not learned or developed because of circumstances brought on by the pandemic, whereas a small proportion (15%) of students disagreed.
  • A large proportion of students (60%) reported that the pandemic had a negative effect on their motivation to learn, which made them less motivated to learn compared to pre-pandemic times. Motivation is an important factor that influences learning outcomes, and it is strongly correlated with students’ success and engagement in online learning.
  • More than one-third of students (37%) indicated that they struggled with their academic grades during the first year of the pandemic.
  • More than half of surveyed students indicated that their socializing was negatively affected by the pandemic. Over half (54%) reported that the first year of the pandemic had a negative effect on their relationships with friends. Also, almost half of the students rated the pandemic’s effects on their social skills (48%) and communication skills (45%) as negative.
  • Half of the students reported that they had less involvement in extracurricular activities in the first year of the pandemic. More than one-third indicated less involvement in college/career preparation activities (39%) and in hobbies (37%), as well.
About the Data

To understand students’ perspectives of the pandemic’s effects on their learning, a random sample of high school students who took the ACT test in December 2021 were invited to participate in a survey study to learn directly from students about their perceptions of how the pandemic affected various aspects of their learning when they reflected on its first year (March 2020 to March 2021), including what was disrupted and what they had learned from their experiences during that time, as well as what educators could do to better support students as the pandemic waned and they began the next phase of their education and career journeys.


About ACT
ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in more than 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies, and employers in the U.S. and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research, and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career. Visit us at

Contact: ACT Media Relations;