SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Learning during the pandemic has created its challenges, and researchers are taking note of how students are performing. The Utah Education Association tells us what we should be focusing on.

Data collected from more than four million students who took Map Growth testing this fall are being used to assess learning.

While the pandemic has disproportionately affected students, the research from the Northwest Evaluation Association suggests U.S. students made some learning gains in both reading and math. However, gains in math were lower – on average.

Researchers encourage schools to look at their own data to determine if national trends are reflective of their students.

“Is what’s important in this pandemic really focusing on falling behind in math?” said Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews, of the research to ABC4 News. “We’re all in this pandemic.”

Matthews said students’ education is being challenged. Though difficult, she believes research on academics is not where the focus should be right now.

“I think our students are learning some incredible life lessons about resilience and flexibility, and priority,” she said. “But academically maybe it’s not going to be the powerhouse year, but I think we have far more important things to be looking at. Like the health and well-being of our students than just their performance on standardized tests.”

Matthews said schools are facing different challenges in urban and rural communities, but a consistent concern of teachers are the social and emotional well-being of students – which she said in turn impacts learning.

“It’s very hard to learn different history and subjects and things like that when you’re lonely or uncertain or facing this kind of chronic unpredictability,” Matthews said.

The more than 665,000 Utah students and their education is a priority to the UEA, and Matthews said despite current circumstances, learning can continue in every situation.

“Education occurs throughout our life and how we approach learning and how we approach issues and problems that come up are going to stick with us far more than a lesson in a math book.”

That said, Matthews recognizes math is important, providing there’s opportunities to better understand math – even during a pandemic.

“Think of all of the opportunities we have to talk about exponents with the virus and how many dystopian models are being read with a new sense of intrigue now,” she said.

Matthews hopes students know they are loved by the UEA and they’re hopeful for each person’s future. She shares a message of hope to students.

“Some of the sacrifices that you students are being asked to take, they are tough, but they are not forever,” she said. “And if we do them, and if we join together in not just driving down the virus in our school environment, but in our communities…so that we can get back to face-to-face learning as soon as possible.”

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