Utah student performance knocked down during COVID-19 restrictions

Jun 2, 2022, 1:43 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 12:37 pm
utah student achievement COVID-19...
FILE: SLC school district reports mask exemption numbers for students. Kindergartner Isaac Nshuti wears a mask as he does an assignment at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY — When the COVID-19 pandemic came to America in March of 2020, Utah leaders had to address public education. And they did as the nation did and moved to remote learning. Then came summer vacation, and a mixed response from Utah districts about bringing students back for the fall.

Most districts implemented a hybrid schedule of remote and on-campus learning, and all public schools were subject to shutting down if cases of COVID-19 reached a certain threshold.

Parents, teachers, and students rolled with the punches. They had to. In the aftermath there’s another hit to absorb, namely, Utah student performance after COVID-19.

Related: Utah  schools in ‘best high schools’ ranking by US News and World Report

Some of the answers are found in “Exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student achievement in Utah,” a study conducted for the Utah State Board of Education. Education officials released the results in November 2021. 

The Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Board told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic that the results weren’t unexpected.

“We saw significant impacts. Student performance is notably lower than in 2019, and that’s true across all grades, subjects, and student groups,” Darin Nielsen said.

“It was slightly larger for mathematics. And also, some of our student groups who are traditionally underserved or have underperformed, they were impacted more significantly than other students,” Nielsen said.

To ascertain the differences in student achievement between school years, the study authors examined the results of assessment tests given to students, including AAPPL, Acadience, ACCESS 2.0 for Els, ACT, KEEP (Kindergarten Entry/Exit Profile), RISE, and Utah Aspire Plus.

One example offered by the study is the score differences in Grade 7 mathematics. Using information from RISE testing, a comparison of 2019 and 2021 test results showed a decrease in student performance levels of 33%. 

The decreases in performance were more acutely experienced, the report showed, by students from certain racial and ethnic groups as well as English learners and students with

What can be done about Utah student performance?

How do students, parents, and teachers bounce back to pre-pandemic testing levels? Nielsen said that’s going to require a lot of effort. It will also require a shift in focus from the individual to groups of students.

“Our teachers and schools are really good at dealing with individual students who experience significant disruptions to their education,” Nielsen said.

“We have teachers and systems designed to address that. It’s just that the magnitude, the number of students that need to have supports put in place to help them accelerate their learning that’s the challenge.”

States and school districts have already received federal money to address student academic performance. And each school district in Utah, Nielsen said,  has submitted a plan for how they’re going to use the funds.

Related: CDC’s new recommendations on masks and COVID-19 metrics paint very different picture of viral spread in Utah

One of the overarching requirements that came with the money was a reliance on evidence-based interventions.

“Evidence-based interventions include summer learning, enrichment, extended school days, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs,” Nielsen said.

“You have tutoring services, summer bridge, credit/deficit programs – a wide range of activities that fall under this evidence-based intervention.” 

Nielsen said that one commonality among the Utah school districts is time. The districts are planning on multiple years to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students.

To put those effects into focus, Nielsen said the Utah researchers used the effect-size statistical comparison. 

“Based on that statistical comparison, across Utah, they saw effects that were as significant and in some cases more significant than the impacts to students of Hurricane Katrina. 


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Utah student performance knocked down during COVID-19 restrictions