Impact of pandemic on education in Utah lower than most of country

Jun 15, 2023, 2:01 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — The pandemic is over, but it’s still having an impact on Utah students.

From remote learning to full closures or hybrid learning, Utah students navigated some challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. But today – three to four years later – students are bouncing back as teachers address this learning loss.

“Even though Utah schools reopened relatively quickly compared to other states, teachers, students, and caregivers faced challenges such as quarantines, social distancing requirements, increased stress, and mental health concerns. These factors affected both teachers’ ability to teach and students’ ability to learn. Consequently, students’ educational outcomes declined both in Utah and nationwide,” read part of a report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

On Thursday, educators and policymakers discussed Utah’s pandemic learning loss. Panelists included 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year John Arthur, Rep. Susan Pulsipher, Utah State Board of Education member Sarah Reale and Andrea Thomas Brandley, senior education analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

They keyed in on four main points.

First, Utah experienced relatively less learning loss. While Utah witnessed notable declines in fourth grade math and reading between 2019-2022, Utah was the only state where eighth grade math did not see any significant declines, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Second, statewide test results still trail pre-pandemic levels specifically in English, math and science for grades three through 10.

Third, learning loss varied among demographic groups. Students identifying as white, Asian or multiple races experienced proficiency rate declines less than the state average in all three subject areas. Conversely, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino and Pacific Islander students’ proficiency rates dropped more than the state average across all subjects.

Finally, learning loss differs among schools and districts. For example, 35 Utah school districts declined in learning proficiency rates, and five districts improved.

“Compared to the rest of the country, our scores look pretty darn good,” said Arthur, who teaches sixth grade at Meadowlark Elementary School in Salt Lake City and was Utah’s Teacher of the Year in 2021. “When I look at that I’m happy, I’m pleased because it’s a reflection of the hours spent trying to educate and uplift our children.”

On Thursday’s panel, he applauded teachers for getting kids through the pandemic.

He says they’ll ride out this learning loss – like they do each fall after summer break.

It’s important we support teachers so they can implement programs that set up students for success.

“Public education still hasn’t delivered on all its promises. But we’ve all had this moment now we can celebrate and recognize the good work that’s been done and then take it to the next level,” Arthur said.

The panel also talked about teachers leaving the profession because of burnout or low pay. Arthur said creating a trusting environment where they can thrive and be there for our students is the goal.

You can see the full report here.

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Impact of pandemic on education in Utah lower than most of country