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Revamping Utah's public schools

Published February 23, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Three and a half years ago the Utah State Board of Education created a definitive plan to increase the expectations and, over time, the performance of our students to make sure that all children have the literacy and skill with numbers they need to succeed and to thrive.

Through this plan, Promises to Keep, we have made major changes in the fundamental foundations of a strong, vibrant education system. These changes include:

• Adoption of new, more rigorous standards in language arts and math.

• Adoption of a new computer-adaptive assessment system.

• Restructuring educator evaluation to improve instruction.

The state of Utah has had standards in every curricular area for decades. In 2010, the state board adopted improved standards in math and language arts, essentially increasing the rigor in these academic areas by almost a year and a half. These standards look not at what a teacher should teach, but what a high school graduate must know to be ready for college and career. That fundamental change in approach has been embraced by a vast majority of educators, despite the increased work that has come with transition to more rigorous standards.

Teachers are looking at lesson plans they may have been using for years and questioning whether they truly help their students meet or exceed the standards. Teachers are changing their instructional strategies to meet the needs of individual students. The rigor of these standards has presented challenges, but our educators, in partnership with involved parents, will continue meeting that challenge.

The State Board of Education has adopted a new statewide computer-adaptive assessment system, to be piloted next year and fully in place by the following year. This system will more clearly communicate to students, their parents and teachers both the performance and the improvement children have made. With that knowledge, the educational experience of each child can be better adapted to individual needs. Testing will meet the needs of accountability, but more important, it will inform the instruction of our educators at critical points during the school year.

While more rigorous standards and improved assessment methods play a critical role in guiding instruction, the real key to quality instruction and improved student performance is the educator in the classroom. The board, in partnership with the Legislature, has begun the work of designing a new educator evaluation system that will allow us to make sure that high-quality teachers are in our classrooms, and show stakeholders that the quality of teaching in our state is constantly improving.

To say that these broad changes, made in an environment of declining school budgets, have challenged our educators would be an understatement. It is a compliment to the work ethic, commitment and integrity of our public education family that so many have embraced the opportunities these changes have brought to improve their own instruction and to help students achieve.

Utah public education accomplishes more with less than any state in the nation. It is time for us to step forward and acknowledge the good work that continues to be done in Utah classrooms day after day.

Our business community has recognized this need and is offering their unprecedented support. Our governor has recognized the need and made public education his chief priority. And the Legislature has acknowledged the need as its members have worked during the recession to cut education less than any other entity.

Over the years, Utah's success in any endeavor has come because we are not afraid to put aside differences and work together in a common cause. The good that is happening has come because of the partnerships we have all created across the board to support the needs of our children.

We have faith that that support and those partnerships will grow and improve in the coming years.

Debra G. Roberts is chair of the State Board of Education, which the Utah Constitution grants "general control and supervision" of public education.