Kennett: New Utah school grading plan full of flaws
The school grading program, created by SB271 S3 (2013 Session) is a one-size-fits-all system that dishonors students, their schools and the dedicated educators who serve them. Consider four of several concerns:
1. The school grading program will assign an "F" to some of our finest high schools. This will be due to a requirement in the law to have at least 95 percent participation in the end of year testing by non-proficient students. In early August discussions, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser saw this flaw but expressed little worry about the labeling of any school.
2. The grades are a fairly accurate representation of the wealth or poverty in a community, not a realistic portrayal of true accountability for those schools. Decades of schooling (home, state, online types) continue to indicate that poverty has a huge, negative effect on student academic achievement and is very difficult to overcome. Yet it can be done with early efforts, intense and sustained work with individual children and continued encouragement and help from home. The Utah Legislature continues to stifle efforts to initiate early childhood education, and has eliminated funding for at-risk students in recent years. Now the grades for many schools in neighborhoods of high poverty mislabel the schools as, at least mediocre, if not failures, a far cry from their real value.
3. The school grading program does not sufficiently acknowledge the hard work of our lowest-performing students. Many students, who are well behind their peers, work hard and can make substantial gains in learning, yet may still not reach the proficiency bar. Their scores are discounted in a weighted formula aligned to a pass/fail requirement inside the system. Thus, a child's own Herculean efforts to catch up and the work of his teacher may be easily ignored in this School Grading program.
4. The school grading program treats all schools the same whether or not they serve special populations of students. It is not surprising then to see "F" grades for schools that serve students with disabilities, schools on mental health campuses, and schools that, thankfully, recapture students who have been incarcerated and whose teachers work tirelessly to help each student recapture his/her future. These are still "F" efforts, according to Utah's Legislature.
Parents in Utah who serve on local school boards of education support strong accountability for our schools. They advocate for accountability systems which:
• Honor growth by concentrating attention on helping every child grow in his or her academic achievement and a system that values and recognizes that growth.
• Make clear to schools what is needed in order for them to improve so that even small increments of improvement can be recognized, reinforced and rewarded.
• Are devoid of limitations that arise from reliance upon a bell-shaped curve.
• Use a system that accurately reflects the performance and growth of the school and has a common perception as to the meaning; and
• Provide assistance to schools that have created an improvement plan, and the resources to implement that plan.
We hope parents across the state will demand accountability from their legislators for an unwise school grading program that does not reflect the many variables that are important to a fair and accurate portrayal of what is occurring in Utah's remarkable schools. Please call your local legislator to register your concern.
Peggy Jo Kennett is president of the Utah School Boards Association.