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State ed leaders to consider grading schools

Published November 5, 2010 7:03 pm

Accountability • Lawmakers are also working on the issue.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lawmakers aren't the only ones working to assign letter grades to Utah schools.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway said Friday his office is also working on a rule to grade Utah schools based at least partly on academic performance.

"It's probably something that's coming anyway," Shumway told state Board of Education members Friday, acknowledging that most educators would probably prefer not to assign letter grades to schools. "I would just as soon see you all involved in making the rule rather than less connected people further from the schools than you are."

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, announced in August that he plans to sponsor a bill to hold schools accountable by giving them A-F grades. His announcement came amid a visit to Utah by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who described to educators and state leaders how Florida boosted its student achievement through a number of reforms, including grading schools.

Florida's reform plan also included giving rewards and consequences for those grades; not allowing third-graders with poor reading scores to advance to fourth grade; increasing graduation requirements; and expanding school choice through charter schools, corporate tax credit scholarships and vouchers.

Florida also limits class sizes, per a constitutional amendment voters there passed in 2002, though Bush said Florida's success was not connected to its lower class sizes.

Shumway said he hopes that by creating a plan to grade schools, the state can move forward with other Florida reforms, such as lowering class sizes, professional development for teachers, preschool and full-day kindergarten.

"If we want to have the kinds of changes they had in Florida, we'll need to do a lot more than just grade schools," Shumway said. "Grading schools is certainly one thing they did but it's awfully hard for me to attribute all the gains to that. I would have to think that providing services to children had quite a bit to do with their gains in Florida."

Though board members won't see or vote on the rule until December, some were skeptical. Board member Carol Murphy said the discussion left her feeling "sad and deflated."

"One of the worst reasons to do something, I think for us, is because somebody else might do something more stupid," Murphy said.

Other board members, however, said they like the idea of getting out in front on the matter.

Niederhauser, who is still working on the bill, said Friday he's pleased the state board is discussing the issue. He said he hopes lawmakers and state board members can work together to implement the grading, though he said he would still like to run a bill to see it become statute.

"What we're looking for here is some reasonable transparency for the public," Niederhauser said.

Both Niederhauser's bill and the state office rule are still being drafted.