Each day, teachers and school leaders are faced with the challenge of meeting the needs of a growing audience of diverse learners to help them reach their full potential. Nearly half (46 percent) of teachers work one-on-one with students who require accommodations.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four adults in the United States have a disability that impacts major life activities.2 At Microsoft, we believe that technology can play an important role in addressing this evolving set of needs across students, teachers, and schools.
Last week, we announced continued investments in accessible technology tools including the newly expanded Inclusive Tech Lab. Today, in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we’re building on that work to share new research that speaks to the accessibility needs of today’s classrooms. We surveyed K-12 teachers of different ages and years of experience across the United States to understand how teaching and learning is evolving in today’s education landscape. The data reveals interesting findings on the gaps between what teachers want and need for instruction versus what they have, the broadening of accessibility needs, the pandemic’s widespread impact on teaching, learning challenges and mental health, and how teachers think about accessibility.
Here are the key trends and findings that emerged from the Microsoft Teacher Survey and what we’re doing differently at Microsoft to better support this shift in K-12 education:
Accessible technology allows for more inclusive classrooms for everyone
Accessible technology in the classroom is no longer perceived as only supporting a specific group of students. The data shows that 84 percent of teachers say it’s impossible to achieve equity in education without accessible learning tools. Additionally, 87 percent of teachers agree that accessible technology can help not only level the playing field for students with disabilities but also generate insights that help teachers better understand and support all their students. Thoughtful use of and investments in technology can help to bridge these gaps and make more inclusive learning in classrooms possible for everyone. This makes tools like Microsoft’s Immersive Reader a game changer. The free tool not only supports text decoding for students with learning differences, such as dyslexia, but also enhances reading and comprehension for all learners. Immersive Reader is great for any learner who needs help with reading, built right into the Microsoft 365 apps and Microsoft Edge browser, and is available to any EdTech company that builds products on Microsoft Azure.
Pandemic effects on classrooms are more widespread than we think
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the complex challenges impacting the classroom. More than half of teachers, 52 percent, have noticed an increase in the number of students who have fallen behind in reading in the past two years and 39 percent have noticed the same in math. Additionally, 59 percent of teachers say that 25 percent of their students are two or more grade levels below in reading or math. Although the pandemic has had a massive impact on schools, responsibly designed accessible learning tools can support our students in getting back on track. Microsoft is committed to empowering students and providing supportive, accessible technology that helps teachers leverage insights with tools like our student support spotlight card. The new student support spotlight card in Education Insights helps teachers make sense of student engagement signals and identify which of their students may require additional support based on early disengagement. The feature is supported by pedagogical research showing that early intervention of decreased engagement can help students overcome learning obstacles and reduce the risk of falling behind.
Teachers need support to do what they do best
Our world has changed forever, and classroom instruction isn’t exempt from the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The fundamental tools and support needed for teachers to do their best work with students facing obstacles—both academically and emotionally—have drastically changed. We found that four in ten (41 percent) teachers have seen an increase in mental and/or emotional issues among their students. 75 percent of these teachers say there is a great or moderate need to adapt their teaching style to accommodate this challenge. Further, the research shows students with disabilities are at an increased risk of experiencing mental health difficulties. The percentage of teachers saying they have seen an increase in mental and/or emotional issues rises from 41 percent to 63 percent when 10 percent or more of a teachers’ student body has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Additionally, research shows, teachers note that focusing on student well-being can have a positive effect on academic and life success, workforce readiness, and more.3 Digital tools, like Microsoft’s Reflect, help both teachers monitoring student well-being and students working to identify their own feelings. Regular check-ins give teachers insight into what engages their classes, where individualized support is needed, and highlight how to best provide additional interventions.
Teaching is more demanding than ever before, and we are working to support teachers with tools and opportunities to learn how to leverage accessible technology in meaningful and effective ways. We’ve learned that companies can miss the mark in building accessible technology without also providing manageable, diverse, and easily accessed training for teachers. Nearly half of teachers—46 percent—say they aren’t given enough training to learn how to use technology in the classroom. This need is why we launched the Microsoft Learn Educator Center for Resources and Professional Development. This is a centralized platform provides free support for teachers with training on Microsoft technologies, instructional methods, and more.
School systems need support in designing accessible learning environments
Differentiating instruction for students in both engaging and sustainable ways is difficult. While 70 percent of schools have made an additional investment in technology in the past two years, 70 percent of teachers feel there’s a moderate or massive gap between the resources they need for instruction and what they have, revealing a disconnect and clear sign that technology investments must be intentional. The need for additional support in cultivating accessible learning environments is a pressing issue in classrooms nationwide. Responsibly designed technology can help to bridge this gap. As part of our continued commitment to equitable and accessible learning, Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab created a special classroom to show what’s possible when we normalize accessible technology for every student. This collaboration space provides an opportunity for us, education groups, and other companies to learn and get feedback on making technology more accessible. Additionally, teachers can get comprehensive feedback and recommendations to make their content more accessible for all students, in just three clicks, using Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker available online or offline and built into tools like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
You can learn more about updates and new solutions coming to our portfolio of learning tools by visiting the Microsoft Education Blog.
This shift in accessible and inclusive learning is about expanding our understanding of how accessibility shows up in our classrooms, school districts, and beyond. All types of learners benefit when technology is designed with accessibility and inclusion in mind, setting up all students and teachers for success.4 Let’s help to unlock the possibilities for every student.
1 Microsoft Teacher Survey