New Utah school grades will proceed with slight tweaks
Lawmakers and state education officials are on their way to creating a single system to grade the state's schools, though the compromises are still being hammered out.
The dueling systems one created by the State Office of Education and the other by lawmakers may no longer be at odds. State Superintendent Martell Menlove told the Education Interim Committee Wednesday that the only system for grading Utah's 1,000 schools is the one devised by lawmakers, which will assign letter grades from A to F for the first time this September.
He and Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, discussed how to tweak the two systems so they mesh, a change from just two weeks ago when State Board of Education members asked lawmakers to abandon their new grading system in favor of the State Office of Education's Utah Comprehensive Accountability System (UCAS). That system which uses a point system and issued schools' first scores late last year was approved by the federal government for Utah to use in place of No Child Left Behind.
But Niederhauser said in an interview Wednesday that the new grading system, which was devised during the 2013 session, also could be approved under NCLB.
"I'm very optimistic about [proceeding with the school grades]," he said.
In simple terms, lawmakers want to hold schools to a higher standard when it comes to student academic growth in a year, Niederhauser said.
Under the lawmakers' system, last year the grades Utah high schools would have received were: nine with A; 66 with B; 43 with C; 12 with D and eight with F.
The grades under UCAS: 21 with A; 33 with B; 38 with C; 31 with D; and 15 with F.
Advocates of the new system, including many state lawmakers, said the change would make school performance clearer to parents by issuing a grade based on test scores and how much students learn in a year.
Opponents, who include many education officials, said grades will oversimplify schools' accomplishments and challenges without doing anything to actually help schools that struggle.
Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, said Florida, which inspired Utah lawmakers' system, also pumped in millions of dollars to help schools improve their grades, something Utah is not doing.
Sen. Howard Stevenson, R-Draper, said "dumbing the grading system shows contempt for the Legislature."
Niederhauser said the grades would not single out educators.
"This is not an indictment of teachers but of everybody," Niederhauser said. "Without this transparency, I don't think we're going to get anywhere [in improving education]."