Divided Senate passes school grading bill
Published: March 11, 2013 06:14PM
Updated: March 11, 2013 10:42PM

The Senate passed a bill Monday detailing how a new grading system for schools should work despite concerns from education leaders that it could make most Utah schools look like failures and complicate accountability.

The Senate passed SB271 by 16-10 after debate, and many questions, about the measure. 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 the original school grading legislation was signed into law in 2011.

In a committee hearing last week, State Associate Superintendent Judy Park said when she applied the proposed system to a sample of Utah schools, most earned grades of D, and none earned As or Bs. She also said if the bill passed Utah could end up with two different grading systems because the one developed by the State Office of Education has already been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The proposed one has not.

Bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, made a number of changes to the proposal Monday, including some that he said address concerns about downgrading all Utah schools.

“Every child is capable of making a year’s worth of growth, and I think the transparency and clarity that school grading gives is so important,” Adams said.

Lawmakers also questioned Monday whether the bill would result in two accountability systems. Adams responded that the bill itself does not require two accountability systems. But neither he nor other lawmakers addressed the issue of whether two systems would be required because of federal issues.

Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, unsuccessfully urged lawmakers to vote the measure down, allowing it to instead be studied over the next year by a proposed legislative task force on education.

After the debate, State Superintendent Martell Menlove said he wasn’t yet sure whether the changes would fix the downgrading issue. He said the State Office of Education would have to run the numbers again to know for sure, but he said he hopes the changes do make a difference. He said he wouldn’t want to see Utah school grades inflated or deflated.

“I think the current model we have is a fair distribution, and I would hope these changes allow us to move to that same type of distribution,” Menlove said.

Various groups have taken stands for and against the bill in recent days. Parents for Choice in Education recently sent an alert to its members asking them to voice support for the measure. The Utah Education Association came out against the bill as it was originally written. Several lawmakers said they’ve received a number of e-mails about the issue.

The bill now moves to the House.