Is there a way back from the pandemic learning gap?

Join The Tribune and Gardner Policy Institute for a solutions-centered conversation on student achievement, post-COVID 19.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hailey Bowen, a fourth grader at Long View Elementary, doing online schoolwork at home in Murray on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Recent data is showing significant learning gaps among Utah's K-12 students as a result of COVID-19 school shutdowns and long-term remote learning.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

Utah K-12 students have just finished their first full year of “normal” classroom experience since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March 2020, sending them home to learn remotely.

The pandemic presented students, teachers and parents with unprecedented academic, social and emotional challenges. Research shows how repeated disruptions in school routine have led to significant learning gaps across various age groups, academic subjects and racial and ethnic backgrounds. According to a recent analysis by the Gardner Institute, 35 Utah school districts declined in learning proficiency rates from 2019 to 2022. Only five districts improved. One was unchanged.

As Utah continues to move forward post-pandemic, The Salt Lake Tribune and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute are partnering on a community conversation: “The Way Back from the Pandemic Learning Gap.” The event is the second in our quarterly collaborative “Storytelling Through Data” series. These events focus on data-grounded, solutions-oriented discussions critical to the quality of life in Utah.

The conversation takes place Thursday, June 15, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Thomas S. Monson Center, 411 E. South Temple, in Salt Lake City.

“We’ve got to better understand the impacts of learning loss on our K-12 students if we are going to build a strong future here in Utah,” said Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus. “And we have to elevate ways all of us can support teachers and students.”

Gustus will moderate the conversation, which will be built around a lively Q and A format, with several questions submitted by people who attend.

Andrea Brandley, senior education analyst at the Gardner Institute will discuss data points around the learning gap.

“Since March 2020 when Utah K-12 students were sent home from school, concerns about learning loss have been top of mind for teachers, parents, and community members statewide,” Brandley said. “As we continue to work toward regaining lost learning and improving student outcomes, diving deeper into the data can help school and community leaders allocate resources and prioritize efforts.”

Panelists for the event are:

  • John Arthur, public school teacher and 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year

  • Rep. Susan Pulsipher (R-South Jordan), House Education Committee member, Utah Legislature

  • Sarah Reale (D-District 5), Utah State School Board

  • Andrea Brandley, senior education analyst, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

The event is free and open to the public, but you must register here by June 13 to attend.