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Utah's public schools were hit with two reports on their performance Monday the governor's new PACE report card and the school grading system created by the Legislature in 2011.
The PACE report, adopted this fall by the state school board, complies with federal reporting requirements under No Child Left Behind while also providing parents with a breakdown of school demographics and student performance.
The school grading system assigns each school a single letter grade based on student scores on the SAGE computer adaptive test, graduation rates and ACT performance.
Both reports can be found on the data gateway page of the Utah State Office of Education website.
Under the school grading system, 13 percent of elementary and middle schools received an A grade, 45 percent received a B, 31 percent received a C, 8 percent received a D and 2 percent received an F.
At the high school level, 5 percent of schools received an A grade, 45 percent received a B, 30 percent received a C, 11 percent received a D and 9 percent received an F.
This year's results largely mirror the distribution of grades issued last year. Education officials and lawmakers agreed to mitigate the effects of the new SAGE test, which is more difficult and resulted in most students falling short of grade-level expectations, by grading on a curve.
"It's a way to kind of hold schools, or attempt to hold schools, harmless due to the change in SAGE proficiency," Associate State Superintendent Judy Park said.
Because of the pre-determined distribution, most Utah schools maintained the same grade as last year. But a number of schools saw changes.
Both Salt Lake City School District and Jordan School District saw all traditional high schools improve their grades.
In Granite School District, former D-grade schools Cyprus High, Granger High and Hunter High fell to F grades, while Kearns High improved from an F to a D and Olympus High improved from a C to a B.
The Granite School District said it expects many or even all of its school grades to be raised after the state corrects an error in how it calculated student participation in testing.
Students with disabilities who took an alternative test instead of SAGE were not counted, the district said in a statement Monday. Park acknowledged a data error occurred and agreed some school grades may change.
Last year, Jordan School District began setting aside an hour of collaborative time each Friday for its high school teachers, district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said. That change, along with a greater emphasis on teamwork and data analysis, contributed to the improvement in school grades, she said.
"We think the difference is the professional learning communities," Riesgraf said. "We're just going to keep doing the things that we know are making a difference and hope they continue making a difference."
The former automatic F grade for schools that failed to test at least 95 percent of their students was eliminated this year. The penalty was changed to a single letter grade drop.
Viewmont High School in Bountiful was one of those that received an automatic F grade last year, which Principal Dan Linford attributed to two or three students who failed to complete a year-end assessment.
This year, Viewmont earned an A grade after the staff "hunted down kids and made them take the test," Linford said.
Linford is critical of the school grading system. He said the pressure to test every student or face penalties distracts educators from instruction, and a single letter grade based on core subjects provides a picture of school performance that is too narrow.
"It sends the public an oversimplified view of what we do," he said. "We'll have a really high grade (this year), but that in no way measures what I do in a comprehensive school like Viewmont High School."
And by basing school grades on SAGE testing, Linford said, too much focus is placed on the final assessments given in the spring. Formative tests, by comparison, are given throughout the year.
"This test is the autopsy after it's too late," he said. "I prefer the checkup. I prefer the formative assessment."
Alternative high schools were excluded from grading this year.
Park said the grades and the PACE report card are intended to be among the tools parents can use to evaluate school performance.
"Grades mean different things to different people," Park said. "There's a lot of indicators about the quality of a school. The grade is one indicator but I would hope that parents and the public look at all the great things that are happening at their school."
Because the PACE report card is partly based on federal requirements, while school grading part of state law, the State Office of Education is providing two separate accountability systems for schools.
When asked if the two systems would ever be combined, Park reiterated that the grading statute is constantly under revision by lawmakers and the report card is overseen by the state school board.
"This report card is certainly up to the board to make whatever changes they choose to," she said.