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Bill: Holding Utah schools accountable or making them look bad?

Published March 6, 2013 4:09 pm

Education • SB271 proposes a different system for assigning schools grades of A to F.
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Some say a school grading bill advanced by a Senate committee Wednesday would hold Utah schools accountable, but others argue it would make most look like failures.

SB271 lays out a system for assigning schools grades of A-F next school year, but it proposes a different plan than the one that state education leaders have been working on since original school grading legislation was signed into law in 2011. That original law asked the state school board to model a system and make recommendations about what it should look like to the Education Interim Committee.

Under the state school board's system, schools are scored based on students' achievement on state tests in English-language arts, math and science, and schools' progress in improving those scores. High schools are also judged based on their graduation rates. Based on that system, schools were assigned numerical scores last year for the first time, and the plan has been to assign corresponding grades to those scores starting next school year.

SB271, however, awards schools grades based on somewhat different criteria and standards. For example, it would award schools A grades based on schools meeting a different bar and would count lower-performing students differently.

"This allows us to know how we're doing and how the schools are doing," said bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

But Judy Park, associate state superintendent, said the new system has a number of drawbacks. When she applied the proposed system to a sample of Utah schools, most earned grades of D, and none earned As or Bs. Also, the federal government has already approved Utah's use of the state school board's system in place of No Child Left Behind. So if Adams' bill were to become law, the state would end up with two grading systems, Park said.

"It sends a false message about many of our fine schools being graded C or D," Park said. After the hearing, she said of the bill's supporters, "I think they have an agenda, where they want to make all Utah schools look like they're poor schools."

But Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, which worked with Adams on the bill, said SB271 would give a more honest picture of school performance.

"They've based grades on how many schools they'd like to see in each of the letter grades, rather than saying, 'Let's see how each of our schools are performing,'" Clark said of education leaders' system.

The committee voted 4-1 in favor of the bill Wednesday, and it now moves to the Senate floor.




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