Pandemic impacts on Utah students expected to remain inconclusive until August

ST. GEORGE — While the Utah State Board of Education discussed on Thursday preliminary data concerning the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Utah students, the extent of the impacts isn’t expected to be known until at least August.

Students in the Washington County School District return to school, St. George, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Krystal Mumford, St. George News

Darin Nielsen, assistant superintendent of student learning, said the data they have collected so far is meant to provide insight into the impacts of various condition students have been experiencing since mid-March when the schools were closed, which includes soft closure, quarantine, remote learning and other conditions students have experienced and continue to experience at this time.

“Now that we’re nine months into this — what some people call, and I think it’s true – an experiment, this worldwide experiment in education of disrupting what we would be considered normal and really opening up opportunities for innovation,” he said. “What are we learning from that?”

One thing that has been certain, he said, is the rapidness of change and the need to keep in mind the possibility of future change to current plans and needs.

Nielsen discussed a study by the Brookings Institute in May that looked at the potential impacts of the shortened 2019-2020 school year that projected students would begin the fall 2020 semester with approximately 70% of the learning gains from reading and 50% for mathematics compared to other years.

According to raw data collected at the beginning of the school year, Nielsen said first grade has shown the most significant decline in reading level, a 13% decrease in students showing at or above reading-level benchmarks. This data reflects the impacts of the soft school closures that occurred in spring, he added.

Photo illustration of two young students, one girl and one boy, wearing facemasks while boarding a school bus. | Photo by David Carpio, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

For Washington County students, Steven Dunham, district communications director, told St. George News they only have minimal data so far for reading. Their focal point up to now has been on opportunity-to-learn data, which assesses whether students have essential resource to access education.

Aside from resources, they are currently providing professional development to teachers and administrators to help children that have completed as little as 0% in online learning, “because we know there are some out there,” he said.

“They haven’t done a thing, and so we understand they’re probably not getting the support from home,” he said. “We’re working with teachers and principals in how to help those kids.”

Based on the preliminary data at the state level, Nielsen said there are some expectations thus far. In addition to declines in achievement and reduced growth, minority students, impoverished students, students with learning disabilities and students learning English as a second language are some of the student groups who are expected to have been differentially impacted.

While the data shows declines in most academic areas, he said, mathematic achievement is expected to be the most impacted by the disruptions in learning. In all areas, affected students will need additional support to catch up to pre-disruption expectations.

Nielsen said as of right now, they are not vying for school accountability in relation to impacts on student progress.

For the total picture, he said, it won’t be until at least August 2021 that they will have enough data compiled to provide a greater perspective of how the pandemic has impacted K-12 students’ academic growth.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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