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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

A study finds math and reading losses during pandemic were smaller in Wyoming than ones nationwide


Recently published findings from The Education Recovery Scorecard, a collaborative project between the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, indicate that students across the country have experienced setbacks in their educational progress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The scorecard analyzed data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) collected from 29 states and Washington, D.C. which released data on individual district proficiency outcomes on their Spring 2022 assessments.

“The loss [nationally] was about half of a school year on average in math and like a quarter of a school year in reading, but the losses were larger in higher poverty districts,” said Thomas Kane, the Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard and one of the scorecard’s researchers. “It's not just that there were gaps in achievement before the pandemic, whatever those gaps were in achievement before the pandemic, they're larger now as you know after the pandemic.”

For Wyoming, the researchers gathered data from approximately half of the state’s 48 school districts, measuring the losses in reading and math for third to eighth grade students. They found the Wyoming situation stood out a bit differently from those of other states. The Wyoming fourth-grade cohort performed better than the national average while eighth graders were on par with national trends.

“I think the losses were somewhat smaller in Wyoming than that in the nation as a whole, but the same pattern held that like the losses tended to be larger in the higher poverty districts in the state,” Kane said. “But it wasn't the only thing, there is variation, even among districts with the same levels of poverty. So, for instance, Bighorn [district] 1, Sweetwater 1 and Converse 1 were the three districts with the largest losses we saw in math. And those all tend to be higher poverty districts. Teton 1 saw among the smaller declines, but there were also some middle-income districts like Laramie 2 that had smaller losses than the state as a whole.”

Learning losses were measured by the nine-month school year. For example, a loss of (-0.33) would equate to a loss of three months.

The researchers found that statewide, students lost nearly four months (-0.37) of learning in math between 2019 and 2022 and over two months in reading (-0.25). Individual districts varied in lost progress, with some districts having lost more than the state average.

Though most of the districts from different states experienced a decline in reading and math from the data collected, those in Wyoming generally didn’t lose as much time as students elsewhere. The districts with the biggest losses in math and reading were Laramie County School District #1, which serves Cheyenne, coming in at (-0.32), Natrona County School District #1, which serves the entire county, registering in at (-0.43), and Campbell County School District #1, which serves all that county, coming in at (-0.56).

“About three percent or so of districts of students were in districts that saw increases in math [and] in about 11 percent of students were in districts that saw increases in reading, but I don't see in Wyoming at least any of the larger districts, the districts for whom we were able to calculate a loss separately by district. I don't see any that had gains,” said Kane.

The scorecard also took into account the differences in racial and ethnic achievement gaps as well, noting the differences between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students.

“Wyoming had one of the smallest declines in math for Hispanic students,” Kane said. “Of all the states, there are only three other states that had smaller losses in math achievement for Hispanic students.”

Hispanic students also did better overall in math for the district data collected, with a (-0.27) loss compared to (-0.37) for their white counterparts. However, they fared worse in reading, losing (-0.32) compared to (-0.25) for white students. Hispanics comprise approximately 10 percent of the state's total population and around a quarter of K-12 students.

Kane said it's important to take into account that different states can have different measures of proficiency and testing and measures for educational achievement, so an across-the-board comparison is difficult to determine whether some states rank higher or lower than others do.

“It was impossible to know just whether the losses were bigger or smaller in Wyoming than other states,” he said.

Additional factors are the subject of future research and analysis, which will examine factors about in-person versus virtual learning environments, among others that may have had an impact on student performance.

“There was variation from state to state in the impact of the pandemic and obviously it wasn't just the amount of time schools were closed, there were other things affecting student achievement that we're just now starting to investigate, like differences in COVID infection and death rates by county,” Kane explained about future research. “We’re going to be studying to what extent that had an effect on students’ achievement over and above whether or not schools were open. The kinds of jobs parents were in like were parents in the kind of jobs where they could work from home or were they in jobs where it was much more difficult to work from home.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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