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Special schools

Published October 5, 2013 1:01 am

Grades don't reflect success
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Mark Twain had a point when he said (or quoted someone else saying), "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." The criteria — the numbers — being used to evaluate and grade Utah schools, and the inflexibility of those criteria to take into account the special mission of Utah's alternative high schools, make the results dishonest and unjustifiably degrading.

When the Legislature-created grading system awarded all alternative high schools with "F" grades, it underlined the weakness in that system. When the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System results came out this week, it was frustrating to see that it also failed to put alternative high schools into a separate category with unique criteria.

How can legislators or educators believe a system is credible that recognizes no difference between traditional high schools and those created to rescue kids who have never fit the academic "norm"? Students in alternative high schools wouldn't be there unless they were close to dropping out, with near-zero grade point averages and resulting or contributing behavior problems. Graduation rates and test scores simply do not reflect the success rates in these special schools.

Mountain High in Davis County got zero points on the UCAS and an F on the Legislature's grading system because it didn't have 95 percent participation on tests. Two other alternative schools, Horizonte in the Salt Lake District and Millcreek in Washington District, also got zeroes for the same reason. That's ludicrous. If only one or two of these struggling students missed the test in these small-enrollment schools, they automatically failed.

That kind of inflexibility was what doomed the federal No Child Left Behind and sparked a cry for a state accountability.

A system is worthless if it fails to adjust for these realities and the unique challenges facing educators teaching in these schools.

The State Office of Education created the UCAS to fulfill a legislative mandate before the Legislature launched its own grading system. Officials say they are reviewing their failing scores for many alternative high schools. That's the least the state office could do.

It would be even better if both the state education office and the state Legislature scrapped both these inadequate systems.

There is value in identifying particular schools that need help to bring students up to state standards, but the system must be fair in order to be useful.