No one — parents, educators, the governor, legislators — likes that Utah now has two systems trying to hold schools accountable: new school grades and their predecessor, the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System (UCAS).
But combining them — once seen as a possibility — appears increasingly unlikely.
Find your school’s grade and scoreGo to the state’s education office data website to explore both accountability systems. > bit.ly/datagateway
Search for a school by name, then choose either School Grade or Utah Comprehensive Accountability System report. To see spreadsheets with all schools’ scores, go to the office’s accountability site. > bit.ly/ucasreport
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, says he expects the Legislature to "sand the rough edges" of the new law, but he won’t back away from assigning letter grades to schools. Gov. Gary Herbert is floating the idea of a grade-point average instead.
And State Board of Education member Tami Pyfer of Logan wants to give UCAS a makeover or start fresh.
She envisions taking into account much more of what happens within schools, including arts and Advanced Placement classes.
"There’s a whole menu of options available to us for a great, dynamic system," she says.
‘Move the needle’ » The Utah Office of Education’s releases school grades in early September and UCAS results this week have led to confusion and consternation.
While the new approach assigns a letter grade to each school, UCAS juxtaposes a point score against the state average. Both are chiefly based on Criterion Referenced Tests (CRTs) on math, language arts and science.
Niederhauser says school grades have given greater clarity than ever to what’s happening in schools and have ignited a public conversation. The Legislature and educators are finally hearing, he says, how some schools overcome income and other demographic barriers to perform well.
The principals of nine such schools spoke at a legislative education task force meeting last week, testimony Niederhauser says would not have been possible without school grades.
"This conversation will move the needle," he told them.
But Deon Turley, education commissioner for the Utah PTA, says school grades do not tell parents some of the most important information: a school’s culture. Are people in the school kind to students? Is bullying tolerated?
"I haven’t met anyone who says, ‘Wow,’ that [single grade] tells me a lot,’ " says Turley.
Patti Harrington, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association, says school grades are bad law and bad policy.
"You could have put out the grades by ZIP code," she says, referring to the fact that schools in poorer, minority neighborhoods generally got worse grades.
But UCAS also doesn’t clearly help schools identify what to improve, Harrington said.
Make ‘raspberry lemonade’ » The governor wants to go in a new direction, says outgoing Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.
A single grade does not reflect the "moving parts" in a school, and UCAS reports, perhaps good for educational leaders, are "not much of a consumer tool," Bell says.
Measurements of a school’s success or failure should be comprised of more than test scores and graduation rates, he says. "The governor’s idea is to make that a lot more nuanced and come up with a good template, like a GPA."Next Page >
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