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For the third year in a row, less than a third of Utah high schoolers last year demonstrated “mastery” in math.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 38% of Utah high schoolers had mastered the subject. That figure dropped to 32.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. According to student achievement released Tuesday, that figure again dipped to just 30.8% last year.
The “report cards” released Tuesday outline student achievement data at the state, district and individual school level, which includes charters. Overall, the data shows K-12 student growth in all subjects statewide has remained relatively stagnant since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That tells us that schools are still coping with the impacts of a pandemic,” said Utah State Board of Education accountability specialist Ann-Michelle Neal. “That interruption is something we’ve never seen in the last century, and we should acknowledge and honor the hard work schools are doing.”
The statewide report card also found that only about three-fourths of Utah high schoolers and K-8 students were consistently attending class last year. In the 2018-2019 school year, 86.9% of high schoolers were consistently attending school, along with 86.3% of students in grades K-8.
Despite the drop, the lack of significant change in the years since the pandemic could be a sign that attendance is stabilizing, Neal said. But the figure still presents questions: Has there been a cultural mind shift about attending school? Are parents more cautious about keeping their child home when they are sick?
“What we do know is that instruction matters,” she said. “That nationally ... being in school and present during instruction is the most important thing for student outcomes.”
Explaining the report cards
Curious parents who would like to look at their child’s individual school report card will see four main categories:
• Achievement, which measures student proficiency in each subject. This data is gathered through RISE testing for third through eighth graders, and Utah Aspire Plus testing for ninth and 10th graders. It’s measured on a year-by-year basis, Neal said.
• Growth, which measures how much students have improved — or grown — in each subject. Growth looks at multiple years of achievement, and gives officials a better sense of what direction a school may be headed, Neal said. It’s important to look at alongside achievement, she added, especially as schools continue to recover from pandemic learning loss.
• English learner progress, which measures the percentage of English-language learners “making adequate progress” and those “reaching proficiency.” This is tested each year through the WIDA ACCESS assessment given to English-language learners statewide. For example, 38.3% of all K-8 students learning English as a second language last school year were making adequate progress, while 17.7% were reaching proficiency.
• The fourth category differs between K-8 schools and high schools: early literacy for K-8 students, and post-secondary readiness for high schoolers.
“Early literacy” measures student reading abilities in early elementary grades. It is measured through the Acadience Reading assessment. “Reading on a grade level by the end of third grade is a strong predictor of future academic success,” USBE’s website states.
Among K-8 students, early literacy percentages have slightly increased each year since the 2020-2021 school year, with 46.5% students reading on grade level statewide last school year, and 68.2% students making typical or better progress.
For high schoolers, “post-secondary readiness” takes a look at the percentage of students scoring a composite of 18 or above on the ACT; a school’s four-year graduation rate percentage; and the percentage of students completing college or career-readiness coursework.
Last school year, 88.2% of Utah students graduated after four years — the same percentage as the 2020-2021 school year.
What should parents pay attention to?
While the report cards offer a lot of information, Neal said parents should look at the “indicator” in each category for their child’s school, or at the district level.
For example, the Salt Lake City School District’s report card has a growth category indicator of “exemplary,” and an achievement category indicator of “typical.” Other indicators a parent might see are “developing” or “commendable,” Neal said.
Neal said these indicators are “contextual pieces of information that we’ve added to the report card to help parents interpret the percentages, because I understand how challenging that is.”
Clicking on ”View Details” for a district or school report card will also show comparisons between school, district and statewide averages for each category.
But Neal cautioned that the report cards are only “one piece of information about a school.”
“Many of the things that parents want in a school — like feeling of welcomeness, or caring teachers — those things aren’t captured here,” she said. “This is only part of the picture, and maybe even a small part of the picture about how well schools are doing, and there are many things beyond this that are important and valuable.”
To view school, district and state report cards, visit: reportcard.schools.utah.gov.