As school districts across the country work to support remote student learning opportunities, an important first step to consider is a homework gap needs assessment. By collecting the right information and analyzing that data, school administrators can find solutions that best serve local communities and meet the needs of their students.


While many teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators typically have a general understanding of students who lack access to the Internet or devices outside the classroom, centralizing the collection effort at the district-level helps to: 

1 | Establish a baseline definition of access to the Internet and devices
The level of access and ability to complete assignments on a mobile phone differs dramatically from the access available through a larger computing device with a stable Internet connection. Conducting a survey allows administrators to assess the exact level of access to the Internet and devices, and define the scope of the problem they need to solve.

2 | Capture equitable responses
Teachers and administrators are an asset in designing home access programs. This knowledge should be coupled with a comprehensive survey to ensure that students who may not volunteer information about their Internet connectivity are accounted for and provided the access they need to succeed. 

3 | Understand family preferences and local context
Assessing student needs district-wide can identify additional factors that might impact the design of your home access program. If provided, would families allow their students to use devices in the home? Do families have the digital literacy skills or technical expertise required to help students log into their school programs, or troubleshoot with students when issues arise? Is transportation easily accessible for parents and students if they need to travel to and from a central location to access the Internet?

By asking questions specific to your local community, you can design programs that parents will be more bought-into and ultimately help students succeed. 

Combining teacher and student experience with an extensive data set will help you understand the true nature of the connectivity gaps at home, and design a more precise solution for their students. It can help illuminate short-term solutions that help students during the COVID-19 crisis, such as device loaner programs or hotspots, while also highlighting opportunities to invest in community solutions, such as network builds.


Districts face three key barriers when collecting data about student home access needs:

1 | Inaccurate Responses
Simply asking the question “Do you have Internet access at home?” frequently does not yield an accurate picture of the need. Students and parents don’t always know whether their home access is sufficient for distance learning programs. Most families are unaware of the technical specifications of their home Internet connection and may not think to differentiate between a mobile device data plan and a broadband connection. Furthermore, current school and office closures mean that more users are reliant on the Internet at home, so a connection that was previously sufficient may no longer be adequate. 

Determining students’ device needs can also be challenging. While a parent may indicate that there is a device at home, that device may not be sufficient for learning (e.g. a smartphone) or they may not have enough devices for each child.

2 | Inefficient Collection Processes
Reaching out to all students and families in a school district requires significant coordination and planning. Without a centralized outreach effort that collects consistent data points across all students, school districts can struggle to aggregate data in a way that can adequately inform decision-making about solutions. An inefficient data collection process also means that the effort may take weeks or months to complete, leaving the hardest to reach students without access to the connectivity or device needed to continue learning.

3 | Incomplete Datasets
100% participation from students and parents is hard under any circumstances, let alone with the demands of the current crisis. Districts are struggling to assess the need for all students for reasons, such as survey fatigue or missing and incorrect contact data. Participation rates tend to be higher when outreach is targeted and direct (e.g. a calling campaign) and when the data is collected through an existing, required process (e.g. student registration).


To address these challenges, we recommend considering the following data collection models depending on your district’s current situation and goals:


Prioritize and Outreach
Emergency data collection response:

1 | Identify students who have not “attended” online learning or required event
2 | Map students and identify potential connectivity options
3 | Outreach to families (call, email) and guide through prioritized options
4 | Track progress and escalate to district tech team as needed

Create Registration Survey
Long-term data collection solution:

1 | Adjust registration/enrollment process to assess home access and device need for each student
2 | Collect results and identify students without sufficient access
3 | Map students and research connectivity options

School districts across America are working on homework gap needs assessments. A few examples include: 

  1. Atlanta Public Schools, GA:
    Administrators used a phased approach to assess the needs of their students. First, they used the data they had available: they assessed the “attendance” metrics after the first week of learning and found that 6,000 students missed class. They focused their message and then sent the survey electronically and by mail to the families of those 6,000 students.

    Next, they leveraged the expertise of their social workers and community volunteers to call parents directly. Through a uniform script and specific questions, they prioritized the 1,000 students most in need and sent them technology packages so that they can continue to learn remotely.

  2. East Central Minnesota Education Cable Cooperative (ECMECC), MN:
    ECMECC is a consortium of 14 school Districts and a Technical and Community College supporting technology for students in East Central Minnesota. Through their network of member schools, they distributed an online survey via Google Forms.

    Their survey asked detailed questions about both cell phone and Wi-Fi accessibility to ensure clarity on the type of connection available. They also asked users to complete an Internet speed test and record results – enabling them to determine the true sufficiency of access instead of relying on user interpretation.

  3. Greeneville City Schools, TN:
    GCS collects data on each student’s home internet access status through their annual registration process. Incorporating this data collection into an existing business process has enabled them to achieve a more complete picture of the students who lack access at home. When COVID-19 hit, GCS already knew which students would require a connectivity solution and immediately targeted outreach and resources to those students. 


Assessing the needs of your students is critical to providing a short-term solution during the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve highlighted the importance and challenges of administering wide-scale assessments, and offered examples of school districts that are making great strides in this area. 

For more ideas on how to create an equitable and empathetic survey for your community, download our one-page Guide to Creating a Survey to Assess Home Access