Dave & Dujanovic: Principal talks about learning recession in Utah during pandemic

May 19, 2021, 7:47 PM
Utah learning recession...

SALT LAKE CITY – Are Utah students in a learning recession due to missing so much in-person classroom instruction because of the pandemic? One principal said yes. 

Dr. DeLaina Tonks, principal of Mountain Heights Academy, a public online charter school for grades 7-12, joined Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to explain why she feels Utah is in a learning recession.

Learning recession in Utah

“What do you expect the end results to be when it comes to the grades the kids get on these end-of-year tests?” Debbie asked.

“I think based on last year’s results, it would be foolish to not think that we would have another learning recession this year,” Tonks said. ” I just don’t know how you could look at everything that happened from a social-emotional standpoint, from an academic standpoint, from a face-to-face versus online standpoint, and see that the learning recession is going to be every bit as bad as it was last year, if not worse.”

Tests give schools and teachers feedback

“Give us some guidance on what the conversation should look like at the kitchen table, some tips for parenting our children through this moment where they know that their learning curve has been in a sharp decline. You can feel it, and they’re afraid to take these tests,” Debbie said.

“The very first piece of advice I would have is not to shame or blame students at all,” Tonks said. “Everybody was doing their best this year and that includes students, families, parents, administrators, educators. Nobody got up in the morning and thought, How can I teach a bunch of students and make sure that they have a bunch of learning loss?”

“If I had to sit down with my students at the kitchen table and talk to them about the end-of-year testing, I would actually tell them the same thing that I always tell them,” Tonks said. “It’s one data point. It gives the school a good perspective on what they have accomplished throughout the year and where they need to tighten things up to the next year. It’s not about you as an individual.”

Does online learning work?

“Some people argue that this massive slide in learning [during the pandemic] proves that online school doesn’t work. Do you buy that?” Dave asked.

“Yes and no. And the reason for that is that what happened in this last year due to the pandemic was crisis schooling.  . . . There’s a difference between crisis schooling and intentional online learning,” Tonks said. “At Mountain Heights Academy, we’ve been doing intentional online learning since 2009 Our entire infrastructure is set up to develop connected and successful learners from an online standpoint. . . . It’s really difficult to turn on a dime and do that when you’ve been in a brick and mortar for your entire life.”

“So, no online learning is not a terrible thing. Crisis schooling, I think that that’s been difficult on everybody, but intentional online learning can actually benefit students,” said Tonks.


Salt Lake City School District keeping masks until end of school year


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Dave & Dujanovic: Principal talks about learning recession in Utah during pandemic