Fix to School Grading Shock Advances

Brighton High School2A bill proposed by Senator Stuart Adams (Republican – Layton) that would make revisions to procedures and standards for assigning a letter grade to a school was unanimously passed out of the Senate Education Committee with a favorable recommendation Monday morning.

SB 209 – School Grading Revisions, would require the State Board of Education to establish a growth target for each statewide assessment students take and create an alignment of scale scores. Alternative high schools and newly opened schools would also be excluded from the grading system.

The school grading system, also known as the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, was created in March 2011 by the passage of SB 59, which was sponsored by Senator Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy), now President of the Senate. Under the current system, a school’s grade is determined by several factors, indlucing how many students pass state standardized tests and how schools improve year-to-year. In September, it was revealed that a total of 16 high schools and 15 elementary and junior high schools were given failing grades by the state law. Soon after, there were calls for reform.

Various factors were included or excluded in the grading process, including student participation and if the school in question was a traditional school or school for students with alternative needs.  Regarding the exclusion of alternative high schools, Adams explained that upon investigation “it became somewhat obvious that it’s very difficult for them to fall into the same evaluation system.” Schools where student participation in testing is below 95 percent would no longer get an automatic F. The school grade would be lowered by one letter grade instead.

Judy Clark, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education, believes the bill is a “very strong step forward to empower administrators and teachers with how to best help their students succeed each year and by meeting that target growth.”

Sara Jones, director of educational excellence and community outreach for the Utah Education Association, feels that changing the school grading system for the third time “works against the idea of showing some consistency, transparency, and clarity on actually how growth is measured and how schools are being assessed.”

The original school grading bill was passed amid much controversy. It narrowly cleared the House with a 39-32 vote, with similar margins in the Senate. Those opposed argued that it would discourage teachers in struggling schools and, in the end, wouldn’t help solve anything since additional funding for improvement wasn’t included. Adams’ bill is expected to be much more palatable to both chambers.

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