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Ogden • At Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday, students cheered as their principal accepted an award from the Ogden School District.
The students' year-end test scores in 2015 were the most improved in the district including a doubling of the percentage of students proficient in math and were enough to bump Lincoln from a C to a B in Utah's school grading system.
"The work that we put in today and the work we put in tomorrow is going to show up in those end-of-year tests," Ross Lunceford said.
Earlier this month, state education managers released new data from SAGE, Utah's computerized assessment, which showed more students reaching grade-level benchmarks in math, English and science.
Those improved SAGE scores translated into higher marks statewide on three separate school performance reports released Tuesday school grading, PACE Report Cards and School Federal Accountability Reports which tell a variation of the same story as students advance toward high school graduation.
"We don't just test kids to test kids," said Jo Ellen Shaeffer, assessment director for the Utah Office of Education. "We want all kids to be proficient. We want all kids to be college- and career-ready."
More schools received A and B grades in 2015 under the state's school grading program, which was created by lawmakers in 2011.
That report showed 123 elementary, middle and high schools earning an A grade, up from 99 in 2014. Schools that failed to test at least 95 percent of students were penalized by a single letter grade.
The number of schools that received an F grade fell from 27 to 23. "That's positive news," Shaeffer said.
Rewards, penalties ahead • Educators have been slow to embrace school grading, with critics accusing lawmakers of designing a program that encourages snap judgment of school performance. A new school turnaround law passed this year now assign rewards and penalties to schools based on the grades.
The $8 million program will award salary bonuses to high-achieving schools, while consistently failing schools will receive administrative training and could be closed or transitioned into state-run charter schools.
The specifics of that program, and the schools to be targeted for turnaround interventions, are under consideration by the state school board.
South Kearns Elementary received a D grade this year, and Principal Julie Lorentzon said the grades don't account for socioeconomic challenges. The elementary is a Title 1 school, meaning it receives supplemental federal funding to address the needs of a low-income population.
"Grades are really good at telling you which [schools] are low-income schools," she said. "But I always try to look on the bright side last year, we were an F."
Last year, South Kearns Elementary started a SAGE Olympics, rewarding students with gold, silver and bronze awards based on improvements in their test scores.
But the school had to stop the program after lawmakers passed a law prohibiting any incentives related to SAGE testing, in response to a swell in the number of parents opting their children out of participation in year-end testing.
"We can still set goals, I just can't incentivize them," Lorentzon said.
She said SAGE scores and school grades provide useful comparisons. But she added that there's context behind scores, such as whether a student is learning English as a second language, that should be considered by parents and policymakers.
"A lot of the math test is story problems," she said. "If you've got a school where everybody is a native English speaker, they're probably going to do better."
Adding context • School diversity and economic demographics are included in the PACE report cards, which were developed by the Utah Governor's Office last year to measure progress toward Gov. Gary Herbert's so-called "66 by 2020" goal.
He wants 66 percent of Utah adults to hold a degree or professional certification by the year 2020, as well as a 90 percent high school graduation rate and 90 percent proficiency on grade-level math and reading.
The PACE reports show the state moving closer to Herbert's goals. Utah's graduation rate increased from 81 percent in 2013 to 83 percent in 2014. A statewide graduation rate for 2015 has not been released.
Lunceford said the PACE reports provide parents with a greater degree of detail. "If they only could look at one [report], I'd have them look at PACE," he said.
The third report, or School Federal Accountability Report, is required under Utah's waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act. It scores schools based on the number of students scoring proficiently on SAGE as well as the improvement of low-performing students.
Utah's average score on the accountability report increased from 367 points in 2014 to 381 points in 2015.
Schools that failed to test at least 95 percent of students, due to absences or parents opting out of SAGE, were awarded zero points.
Find the reports
Find your school's reports and data about your school district at https://datagateway.schools.utah.gov.
All three reports rely heavily on test scores from SAGE, Utah's year-end computerized assessments.
School grades • Assign letter grades to schools based on SAGE scores and other measures, such as high school graduation rates.
PACE Report Cards • Add additional context, such as school demographics.
School Federal Accountability Reports • Required under Utah's waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, the reports assess schools based on the number of students scoring proficiently on SAGE as well as the improvement of low-performing students.
How letter grades for Utah school have changed
Grades 3 through 8:
93 schools with A grades in 2014, 109 schools in 2015.
337 schools with B grades in 2014, 358 schools in 2015.
235 schools with C grades in 2014; 213 schools in 2015.
58 schools with D grades in 2014, 45 schools in 2015.
15 schools with F grades in 2014, 13 schools in 2015.
Six schools with A grades in 2014, 14 in 2015.
58 schools with B grades in 2014, 61 in 2015.
39 schools with C grades in 2014, 42 in 2015.
14 schools with D grades in 2014, six in 2015.
12 schools with F grades in 2014, 10 in 2015.