The House overwhelmingly supported a bill Wednesday to do away with assigning single letter grades to Utah schools, with lawmakers calling the practice outdated and “demoralizing.”
But even with the strong 70-0 vote there, it’s possible this is as far as the measure will go this session. A similar effort passed in the House last year with almost identical favor. But it was dead on arrival in the Senate, which is currently presided over by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, an original sponsor of the state’s school grading law.
Assigning grades to Utah’s public K-12 schools has been controversial since it was put in place in 2011. Each year a school is given an A through F grade where the scores are largely based on student performance on standardized tests.
“We expect all of our children to do well,” said Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, the bill’s sponsor. “But using a single letter grade doesn’t give you an adequate explanation of what’s going on.”
The practice was temporarily suspended in 2018 while the state Board of Education switched to a new testing provider. For that year, there was instead a dashboard model with rankings for each school for achievement and growth, the progress of English learners and, for high schools, how well student were prepared for continuing education.
The new system used five terms for each category in place of grades: exemplary, commendable, typical, developing or critical needs. Poulson’s proposal, HB175, would make that the new standard.
Assigning grades “hasn’t achieved the goals that it should have,” added Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. “It’s been demoralizing to teachers, students and parents. It’s time we do away with something that really hasn’t done us well.”
The Board of Education has largely supported and pushed for the bill this year after massive testing interruptions this last spring with the new provider it had selected. Because of those malfunctions and questions about the data, it has not given out grades for 2019 yet — despite the moratorium on grading being only for a year.
The board is waiting to see if the the proposal goes through this session. It goes next to the Senate for consideration.