Oct 25, 2022 - News

Test scores show Utah schools are still reeling from COVID

Illustration of an apple wearing a covid mask.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Utah school kids are still getting lower test scores than they did before the pandemic, national testing data released Monday shows.

  • But they're not as far behind as their peers nationwide.

Driving the news: Utah's 4th and 8th graders' math and reading scores dropped from 2019 to 2022, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

  • But students nationally saw similar, if not worse, declines. National scores were lower than Utah's averages, both in 2019 and now.

What they're saying: "Utah students demonstrated remarkable resiliency during the pandemic relative to other students in the nation," state Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said in a prepared statement. "However, aspects of learning, like many other aspects of our lives, were negatively impacted."

By the numbers: Utah kids' proficiency levels dropped for both subjects and in both grades.

  • The sharpest decline was in 4th-grade math, with 42% of Utah students testing as "proficient" this year, down from 47% in 2019.
  • 8th-grade reading showed the smallest decline in proficiency, from 37% to 36%.

The intrigue: Utah 4th graders' scores declined more sharply than 8th graders' did in both subjects.

  • The opposite was true nationally, with average 8th-grade math scores almost as low as they were 20 years ago.
  • Utah schools and schools on military bases were the only public schools that didn't show a statistically significant drop in 8th-grade math scores.

Of note: Utah 8th graders are further ahead of national norms than 4th graders are.

  • In math, 70% of Utah's 8th graders demonstrated "basic" skills — 9% above the national rate of 61%.
  • By comparison, Utah 4th graders were just 5% ahead of national rates of scores showing basic skills.

Zoom out: Math scores dropped more sharply during the pandemic than reading scores did in both age groups — statewide and nationally.

  • But math scores also made bigger gains than reading scores did during the 20 years leading up to COVID.
  • That suggests teaching techniques have improved — but may have relied more on in-person, classroom contact.

The latest: Utah received about $900 million in federal emergency COVID funding for schools.

  • Some of that has been going toward counselors, wellness rooms and after-school and summer learning programs to help make up losses during the pandemic, the state school board wrote in a news statement.

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