New data shows COVID learning loss varied by district in Utah
On average, Utah students lost about three months of learning in math and reading between 2019 and 2022, according to researchers at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research and Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Project.
Faculty director of the Center for Education Policy and Research, Tom Kane, said Utah’s declines in math were smaller than the national average, which was closer to half of a year.
“So you could think, ‘well, gosh, Utah wasn’t hit that bad,’ which is true on average. But there were a lot of districts that lost a substantial amount of ground. And there were actually a couple of districts that improved over the pandemic,” Kane said.
Learning loss varied based on which district students were in.
The Juab School District saw some of the biggest losses according to the recently released data. In math, it was the equivalent of an entire school year, or about nine months, and almost eight months lost in reading.
The Granite School District lost almost six months of learning in math and almost four months in reading.
Spokesperson Ben Horsley said the district is letting individual schools create summer school programs and credit recovery options using federal COVID relief funds to help students get caught up.
“Because Skyline High’s needs for credit recovery are much different than Granger High’s, and so on and so forth,” Horsley said. “We’ve needed a greater degree of intervention and support in those most impoverished, at-risk communities. And we don’t want to force a one-size-fits-all type approach to what needs to be an individual school level approach.”
The Wasatch County School District, which is about a few hours north of Juab County, increased student learning during the same time period. Students gained about two months in both math and reading.
Kane said districts with a higher percentage of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunch tended to see bigger losses as did those that spent more time doing remote or hybrid learning. Losses were also bigger in places where there were higher COVID-19 death rates and more disruptions to people’s social and economic lives. The declines were smaller in areas with high voting rates.
“Even with those things, there was still even a lot of unexplained variation in losses,” Kane said. “Even among districts of the same poverty level, there was a lot of variation in the loss. We saw that everywhere [nationwide].”
Within school districts, Kane said the decline in test scores looks similar for all groups of students, regardless of race or income.
“We rarely see a pattern like that. We think that this is probably telling us that there was something about the district's remote/hybrid instruction policy and/or the effects of the pandemic on the social and economic life in a community that explains what we saw.”
Districts that lost more than half of a school year in reading learning include Duchesne, Grand, Juab, Logan City, Ogden City, South Summit and Weber. Districts that lost more than half of a year in math include Duchesne, Grand, Granite, Jordan, Juab, Logan City, North Sanpete, Provo District, San Juan, South Sanpete and South Summit.
Kane thinks many parents don’t realize how much learning loss their child experienced.
“I think parents would be surprised to see that their children are behind where their counterparts were at this time in spring 2019.”
In addition to providing more learning time during the summer, Kane also suggested extending the school year for a couple of years and using tutors. Since some students will graduate before getting caught up, he said some districts could even offer an optional fifth year of high school.
“I think the decisions will have to be at the district level just because the losses were so different in different districts.”