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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'We took care of our kids' -- but they lost a year in reading, math

Juab School District in Utah focused on supporting students emotionally when schools reopened in fall of 2020. “We took care of our kids,” said Royd Darrington, assistant superintendent for Juab Schools. “I’ll be honest, academics was not at the forefront of what we were pushing our teachers to push to their students. It really wasn’t. It was, how do we build a sense of community?”

Wasatch School District, 100 miles away, focused on academics and continuity. "Our academic goals did not change one bit throughout the pandemic,” said Superintendent Paul Sweat. Extra Covid funding went for teacher training.

The two Utah districts have similar demographics: Most students come from middle-class white families. They reopened at the same time. Students had very different learning outcomes, reports Carmen Nesbitt for the Salt Lake Tribune.

"While Wasatch District students gained two months of progress in math and reading compared to their same-age peers in 2019, Juab students lost roughly a year of ground in both subjects," according to a Harvard-Stanford analysis, the Education Recovery Scorecard. Wasatch also ranked among the best in the state in Utah's data on learning loss, while Juab was among the worst.

Wasatch students dressed as characters in their favorite books.

Utah schools reopened sooner than in other states, and the state’s learning losses were less than some states, writes Nesbitt. "Still, statewide proficiency rates in English, math, and science for grades three to 10 fell from 2019 to 2021," and remain three months below pre-pandemic levels in both reading and math.

Juab lost its superintendent, three of five principals and a larger-than-usual number of experienced teachers at the end of the 2019-20 school year. That probably contributed to the level of learning loss.

Now Juab is trying to help its students catch up academically. Are they emotionally stronger or happier in school than the Wasatch kids? I doubt it.

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08. Aug. 2023

Far too many schools, for the past 30+ years at least, put "building a community" well ahead of academics. There have forgotten, or deliberately ignore, the original justification. It is possible to 'add' emotional support and community, but that should be a secondary goal supportive of academics, not the primary goal.

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