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Legislature passes bill to grade Utah schools

Published March 9, 2011 9:44 pm

SB59 • Opponents call handing out grades without enough funding unfair.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Does your child go to an A school or an F school? You'll soon likely find out.

After months of discussion and debate, the Legislature passed a bill, SB59, Wednesday night that would assign grades of A, B, C, D and F to schools based on students' proficiency and progress in language arts, math, science and writing and, in high schools, their graduation rates and measures of college and career readiness. The bill now awaits the governor's signature after passing the House 39-32.

"This provides transparency and accountability for all of our schools," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, the bill's House floor sponsor. "This kind of transparency engages our parents and community members to assist in their schools becoming even better."

Hughes pointed to success with school grading in Florida, which inspired the bill. In 2009, 73 percent of Florida fourth-graders tested at or above basic in reading compared with 67 percent in Utah, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Other supportive lawmakers said they believe grading will ultimately drive communities to help improve schools. Senate bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, worked on the bill with Parents for Choice in Education.

Opponents, however, have pointed to Utah's superior ACT scores, and on Wednesday, some lawmakers argued that Florida also has class size limits and higher per pupil funding than Utah. Some lawmakers said it's not right to grade schools — especially when many face challenges outside their control — without providing additional support.

"If we want to grade like Florida then let's amend this bill and be like Florida, lower class sizes and raise teachers' salaries," said Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan. "What we need to do is not penalize the teachers but help the teachers."

If the bill goes into effect, for this school year, the state Office of Education would model how the grading would work and then suggest changes before the next legislative session. Schools could then start receiving official grades in 2012.