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Utah schools tried these 10 strategies to improve student outcomes — here’s what worked and what didn’t

The Salt Lake Tribune asked Utah K-12 schools to share academic strategies they’ve tried along with data proving they work. Which strategies propelled schools upward on our Chutes and Ladders-inspired academic game board, and which ones sent them sliding down?

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Before, during and since the height of the pandemic’s disruption of education, schools in Utah have been working to find ways to help children catch up or excel academically.

The Salt Lake Tribune asked K-12 schools for examples of experiments or pilot projects they’ve recently tried where they’ve also gathered data to help assess how well the idea worked.

As Westmore Elementary School Principal Vic Larsen puts it, when it comes to teaching young children to read, “We don’t believe in hope as a strategy.” Instead, new science-based teacher training “provided us with the strategies to use,” he said.

[Read more: Utah wants 70% of third graders reading on grade level by 2027. Will this strategy help?]

The examples for our academic version of the classic Chutes and Ladders game relied on different buckets of money — such as COVID-19 relief fund or state grants — or other support. These strategies may succeed in one place, or for one goal, but not another.

For example, an incentive for educators who help their students achieve academic growth in high poverty schools was created in 2017 in part to help retain teachers. A 2020 report to the Utah Legislature said there wasn’t strong evidence that the bonus was improving teacher recruitment and retention statewide.

But the Granite School District says it has helped children at Olene Walker Elementary succeed. Here are other solutions that can be ladders to success for Utah’s kids.

Science of reading training for teachers

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Stipends to support connection

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Community centers to meet basic needs

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Emphasizing emotional support

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

[Read more: Juab School District says it “took care of kids,” while Wasatch School District says it “didn’t change anything” when the pandemic hit. Here’s how that affected learning in the two districts.]

Preparing kids to apply to and attend college

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Bonuses for highly effective teachers

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

AP, college credit courses for underserved students

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Helping students without secure access to housing

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Offering a new virtual school

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Taking direction from data

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)