The Utah State Board of Education released its annual report card for schools statewide, demonstrating academic progress and regression for the years 2021-2022.
The Utah School Report Card, required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, showed scores lower than pre-pandemic levels. However, Utah State Board of Education accountability specialist Ann-Michelle Neal warned against making exact school comparisons from pre- to post-pandemic, as the legislature altered school grading metrics just ahead of the pandemic.
It is “like comparing apples to oranges,” Neal said.
Each spring, Utah students of almost all grade levels are tested on English language arts, mathematics and science to show how schools, districts and the state as a whole are performing on skills taught in the classroom, overall student learning and Utah state standards. Students are measured on achievement, growth, English learner progress and postsecondary readiness, as well as consistent attendance and postsecondary enrollment.
The statewide report shows increases and decreases ranging from +1% to -3% and changes within those ranges are relatively small. Neal suggests these numbers are indicators of stabilization in test scores and should be seen as a positive step toward academic recovery after the pandemic.
“It is important to give attention to the fact that the pandemic did not just affect student learning but had an impact on all aspects of children’s lives. While academics are important, it is also important to address the other kinds of social, emotional and physical loss that students have experienced,” Neal said.
Out of the 98.2% of students who participated from the 1,084 Utah schools, 44.3% of students showed mastery in English language arts, which is a 3.4% decrease from 2021. In mathematics, 32.5% of students showed mastery, which is an 0.1% increase from 2021. In science, 34.1% of students showed mastery, which is a 2.5% decrease from 2021.
While achievement scores are important, Neal said, she suggested that they show “a snapshot of one point in time.”
According to Neal, it is more important to look at student growth, as growth shows students’ performance over a longer period of time. Students’ current scores can be compared to when they started and signal that teachers and students are moving in the right direction.
From their annual Spring assessment, students showed improvement or growth in several subjects. Students improved by 60.5% in English language arts, 59.6% in mathematics and 60.4% in science, measuring “average” overall. Improvement is measured in terms of high, average or low.
“A key message for parents is to ask how their son or daughter is doing. Ask how well their school is doing … share your concerns and ask what you can do to help,” Neal said.
Students who are learning English were measured on their progress toward listening, reading, speaking and writing in English. The study showed that 36.2% of students made adequate progress, which neither increased nor decreased from 2021 scores, and 2.9% of students reached proficiency levels, which is an 0.1% increase from 2021 scores.
Additionally, high school students were measured on postsecondary readiness, looking at how well-prepared students are for the transition from high school to college and career after graduation. Postsecondary readiness means students earning an ACT composite score of 18 or higher, graduating on time with a high school diploma and successfully completing college or career readiness coursework.
In regard to postsecondary readiness, 62.5% of students met the ACT requirements, which is an 0.4% increase from 2021, 88.1% of students met the graduation requirements, which is an 0.1% decrease from 2021 and 81.1% of students met the college or career readiness coursework, which is a 1.5% increase from 2021.
Students were also measured on predictors of academic outcomes and student success, looking at consistent attendance and postsecondary enrollment. Consistent attendance is defined by the Utah State Board of Education as “the percentage of students who miss fewer than ten school days during the school year, which is related to multiple positive student outcomes.”
For high schools, according to the Board, postsecondary enrollment is “the percentage of students who enroll in college in the state of Utah in the year after graduation.” Out of the participants, 75.5% met the attendance goal, which is a 7% decrease from 2021. There were no shown statistics regarding postsecondary enrollment.
According to the Utah State Board of Education, report cards are intended to inform parents, educators and community stakeholders of student progress as they work collaboratively to achieve student success. The Utah State Board of Education via the Utah School Report Cards said, “all students can grow, and all schools can improve.”
“While no student report card tells the full story of a child, no school report card tells the full story of a school. Education is far more than a single score or letter grade, but it is important that families and communities can see both strengths and areas that need support and improvement,” the Utah State Board of Education via Utah School Report Cards said.
The Utah State Board of Education has put effort into creating a parent-friendly and transparent report.
“Parents are such a critical part of their child’s success, and transparency to parents and communities is a high priority,” Neal said.
According to the 2021-2022 Student Participation and Achievement Results, Utah schools are beginning to reach pre-pandemic levels but are not yet there. However, recovery is not a quick process. According to Neal, a full recovery did not happen in Utah schools this year and she does not know when it will.
“No one can say when things will return to normal, or if normal should be the expectation,” Neal said.
Neal continued, explaining that students and teachers face a challenging time and must exert mass efforts to see small gains.
“We often refer to the pandemic in a way analogous to a headwind … One has to exert more energy to cover less distance. This is much like what students and teachers are experiencing now,” Neal said.
BYU elementary education major Hallie Blodgett said the pandemic forced educators to focus on that learning environment of their students.
“I work with young kids and the very basic social skills that I have taken for granted these kids struggle with … Understanding the students who come into your classroom and their environments will impact the approach a teacher takes to learning,” she said.