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Almost all Utah schools might earn a D or an F this year under the state's grading system because of new tests and more rigorous academic standards, state education leaders said Friday.
State school board members voted Friday to discuss the issue with the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee to see what lawmakers want to do. They'll present several options to lawmakers, including lowering the bar to make it easier for schools to earn higher grades, implementing an alternate report card system that doesn't include grades and/or putting school grading on hold for a year.
The board will then revisit the issue at its October meeting.
Board member Debra Roberts called giving all schools in the state a D or an F "extremely problematic." She said Friday it would create confusion at the school level.
"In the long run, that hurts them, and it hurts their programs," Roberts said. She called it a "lack of truth in advertising."
The board also asked Gov. Gary Herbert'a opinion when he visited the board during its meeting Friday.
Herbert said he's not worried about proficiency rates falling as a result of the new tests and standards. That drop was expected.
"I don't think it sends a good message, but you've got to establish a baseline some place to raise the bar," Herbert said. At the same time, he said, he doesn't think it would send a good message to stop grading for a year because the grades aren't pretty.
"We don't want to say everything's OK when it's not OK," Herbert said.
The governor said he has concerns with the state's grading system. It's too simple and doesn't give Utahns enough information about their schools, he said.
That's part of the reason he is proposing a new school report card that would include more information such as proficiency over time, graduation rates, kindergarten readiness, college credit earned, student demographics, statewide performance and other information about school-specific programs. It would not include a letter grade.
The state school board voted on Friday to embrace the governor's suggested report card, which could be implemented in the next couple years.
Under current law, however, schools would still get separate letter grades as well.
Proponents of the state's school grading system say it's needed to help parents more easily understand school performance and hold schools accountable.
Under the state's grading system, schools are given grades of A through F based largely on achievement and progress as measured by state tests. Those tests, however, changed this year to new, computer-adaptive ones known as SAGE. And those new assessments are based on new Common Core academic standards, which education leaders say are more rigorous than Utah's previous standards.
Preliminary results of those SAGE tests show that, statewide, less than half of students tested proficient in math, language arts or science. That's a big drop from proficiency rates on previous state tests, known as CRTs.
The drop is no surprise to education leaders, given the new tests and standards. But until Friday they hadn't much discussed how those lower proficiency rates would affect school letter grades.
"This is an issue we saw coming for a long time, but now we're hit in the face with that," Roberts said.
Deon Turley, education commissioner for the Utah PTA, said she hopes parents understand they shouldn't judge their schools on letter grades alone.
"We've always felt really bad about the idea of a school being reduced to one single letter grade," Turley said. "What I want to know as a parent about a school can't be reduced to one letter grade."
If nothing changes, school grades are scheduled to be released in December. Students will get individual reports showing how they performed on the new SAGE tests in October.