Christina Muñoz • IDRA Newsletter • March 2021 •

Students with limited access to the basic resources necessary to thrive in a digital learning landscape, such as broadband connectivity and/or technological devices, are among those who are at highest risk of missing out on classroom instruction during the pandemic. Students of color are significantly less likely to have access to broadband or Internet-connected devices compared to their white peers (TSTA, 2020).

Student engagement, which is students’ intellectual, social and emotional connection to school, is foundational to learning. Reports at the end of spring 2020 showed that almost 89% of students were fully engaged at the time of COVID-19 school closures and the end of the school year.

To examine how the digital divide impacted students’ relationship to their learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, IDRA analyzed data on preliminary student engagement patterns from the spring 2019-20 school year and paired it with an analysis of Texas students’ broadband access from the American Community Survey (2019: ACS 5-Year Estimates).

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) began in May 2020 to require schools to report on student engagement in spring coursework for the 2019-20 school year and through the 2020-21 school year. In this case, TEA defined student engagement by the completion of assignments, responsiveness to teacher and school outreach, and logging into virtual classrooms.

TEA reported that more than 600,000 Texas public school students – over one in 10 students – did not complete assignments or respond to teacher outreach in spring 2020 during the pandemic (TEA, 2020). Schools lost touch with Black students and Latino students at over twice the rate of white students (TEA, 2020).

IDRA’s analysis shows that student engagement suffered as a direct result of digital divide exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with the transition to remote learning. Key findings show:

  • Access to broadband of any type was a significant predictor of full student engagement within large suburban and urban school districts.
  • School districts with the highest rates of student engagement tend to be urban and suburban areas.
  • School districts with the highest rates of students counted as “unengaged” tend to represent greater proportions of Latino students.
  • Rural school districts demonstrate disproportionately high rates of schools having either no student contact or having lost student contact.

IDRA will release the full study soon while also urging Texas policymakers to establish a permanent broadband infrastructure that includes connecting high-speed Internet to urban and rural communities and that addresses education needs of the most vulnerable student populations.*

* See Texas Needs an Equitable State Broadband Plan to Serve Students and Families, by Thomas Marshall (February 2021).


TEA. (August 13, 2020). SY 2020-2021 COVID-19 Crisis Code Reporting Guidance. Texas Education Agency.

TSTA. (August 2020). Closing the Digital Divide for Students in Texas. Texas State Teachers Association.

U.S. Census Bureau. (December 10, 2020). American Community Survey 2015-2019 5-Year Data Release. U.S. Department of Commerce.

Christina Muñoz is an IDRA Education Policy Fellow. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at

[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]