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School grades would be suspended for one year under a possible compromise bill approved Tuesday by the Utah House.
House members voted 56-18 for SB220, which expands school grading to place a greater emphasis on student improvement and to include metrics beyond standardized test scores.
The bill also removes the grading curve, which sees schools punished if too many campuses improve, in lieu of a criteria-based system allowing any or potentially all Utah schools to receive high marks.
"It's an improved system," House sponsor Rep. Brad Last said. "The state [school] board is going to be involved in setting the criteria for what is an A, B, C, or D."
The vote of approval came after a lengthy debate over whether, and why, the controversial practice of assigning letter grades should continue.
School grading is broadly opposed by educators, and is frequently criticized as a system that stigmatizes schools based on their socioeconomic demographics.
The House approved a bill last month, in a 54-18 vote, that would have ended the practice of assigning letter grades to school. But that bill gained little traction in the Senate, where school grading remains popular.
Last encouraged his House colleagues to remember the "political realities" of school grading, and pass an amended version of SB220 that pauses grading for one year. He said the temporary moratorium on grading could be the middle ground that satisfies both the House and Senate.
"If we don't pass a bill through both bodies this year," Last said, "we end up with what we have right now. And I believe that of all the options out there, that is the worst."
The moratorium amendment was proposed by Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, who argued that administrators need time to adjust to the accountability changes proposed in SB220.
"Our schools need time to gather this data for themselves," Owens said, "and then get on target for this dashboard accountability system."
But Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, said the true political reality is the will of Utah voters, who widely oppose school grading.
"Do you represent other legislators here who are your colleagues and friends?" Moss said. "Or do you represent those people who elected you?"
And Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, who sponsored the bill to end grading, said it is wrong to ignore the feedback of parents, teachers, principals and school superintendents when crafting laws for schools.
"I think it is appalling that when we consider education policy in this body and elsewhere that we disregard and sometimes disrespect the expertise of our educators," Poulson said.
A motion to remove letter grading from SB220 failed in a 27-45 vote, before the House ultimately approved the bill. It will now return to the Senate for consideration of the amendment to pause grading for one year.