The “pandemic effect” caused school performance ratings across the state to drop during the 2020-2021 school year.
That’s about the only reliable conclusion from school performance data released last month by the Utah State Board of Education, according to state education officials.
“Due to the impacts of COVID-19, interpret 2021 scores with extreme caution. Comparisons of 2021 scores to previous years or across student groups, schools, and districts are not advised,” reads the cautionary note that appears above school performance data on the USBE’s online data gateway.
The statewide percentage of all students scoring at or above the proficiency level on standardized tests in language arts dropped from 47% of all students tested in the school year ending in 2019 to 43% in the 2021 school year.
Likewise, the statewide percentage of all students scoring at or above the proficiency level on standardized tests in math dropped from 45% of all students tested in the school year ending in 2019 to 49% in the 2021 school year.
And the statewide percentage of all students scoring at or above the proficiency level on standardized tests in science dropped from 47% of all students tested in the school year ending in 2019 to 44% in the 2021 school year.
Statewide testing was not conducted during the 2019-2020 school year.
The range of the decrease in proficiency scores from the pre-pandemic year varies widely from school to school, district to district and subject to subject, making comparisons between schools and even year to year difficult and unreliable, according to Cody Reutzel, director of assessment, accountability and research for the Tooele County School District.
“Due to the pandemic the educational opportunity to learn varied greatly from previous years and from school to school,” Reutzel said.
Even though comparisons may not be accurate, the state and the school district released the 2020-2021 data in an effort to be completely transparent about how schools and students are performing and how the pandemic affected education, according to Reutzel.
Educators from the district level down to teachers in the classroom will use the performance data to drive decisions about teaching and learning to help students recover from any disruptions in their education due to the pandemic, according to Reutzel.
The school district is currently using the 2020-2021 test data to help drive decisions about how to spend federal funding the school district received specifically to address the pandemic’s effect on learning, Reutzel said.
The Utah State Board of Education conducted a study on the pandemic effect on education in conjunction with the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment.
As part of the study a “fair trend adjusted score” was computed for proficiency scores statewide. The fair trend adjusted score attempted to make a best guess of how students participating in testing would have performed, had they not experienced pandemic related disruptions.
The study concluded that average proficiency scores in 2020-2021 were lower than the fair trend adjusted average scale scores in 2018-2019 for all grades and content areas, with the decline slightly larger in mathematics than in language arts.
Scores most impacted at the elementary level were the sixth grade language arts, where the observed proficiency score for 2021 was 54% below the adjusted score. The observed 2021 math proficiency score for fifth grade was 39% below the adjusted score.
At the high school level the tenth grade math proficiency score was 27% below the adjusted score. The ninth grade math proficiency score was 24% below the adjusted score.
The study also stated that the decline was observed overall and for in various student groups, indicating that achievement gaps that existed before the pandemic were likely exacerbated because of pandemic related disruptions, according to the report.
Educators are looking forward to seeing the results for 2021-2022 school performance data to see if there is a recovery from the pandemic drop and where efforts can be made to continue improvement, according to Reutzel.
“We are at the point where we are taking an honest look at the data to determine actionable steps to take,” he said.