Utah high school grades are dead now. How do you know how your school is doing?

After about a decade of assigning letter grades to every K-12 public school in the state, Utah lawmakers approved Thursday that the system itself should get an F because it doesn’t accurately show the nuances within education.

And now they’re doing it.

HB308, a bill aimed at not giving Utah schools an A through F grade for performance, passed the Senate unanimously. It also previously passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, although it will return there to approve a few minor changes before going to the governor for final signing.

Senator Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton and Senate sponsor of HB308, said the results weighed on schools and were ultimately unhelpful.

“There are certain things that we have imposed on the public school system that we need to mitigate,” he said.

Efforts to abolish grading for school achievement have been underway for years, sparked by several years where grades could not be awarded – due to the pandemic, flawed end-of-year exams and other disruptions.

Educators have also long believed that grades do not reflect actual strengths or weaknesses, but rather reflect a school’s demographic challenges. Schools with a higher population of English learners or those with more students in households with lower socioeconomic status often get lower grades, noted Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights and an educator in the Granite School District.

“The note on the letter was punitive,” said Riebe.

Even Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, voted in favor of the bill. Adams was the original sponsor of the state School Grading Act in 2011 and had previously resisted efforts to repeal it.

However, on Thursday there was some initial confusion about what will replace school grades, to keep parents informed and for the state to be transparent about concerns with a school. These are the efforts that will move forward to take accountability:

A dashboard

When state legislatures agreed to suspend school grades for a year a few years ago, the Utah State Board of Education was tasked with developing an alternative system to still provide insight into a school’s performance.

What emerged was a dashboard that showed detailed information on how students were doing across multiple categories.

This included looking at how many students were achieving proficiency levels on tests in math, science, and reading. There were also growth brands compared to the previous year.

The dashboard also included how well high school students are doing on the ACT, which measures college readiness, and the percentage of 12th graders who graduate. And there was a category for how well a school responds to the needs of its English learners.

This more nuanced breakdown replaced the single-letter note and quickly gained favor.

In the future, it is very likely that the state will continue to provide parents with information about schools in this way.

That’s not specifically written in the bill, which caused some concern for Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.

“School choice will replace the need for that kind of transparency,” Sandall countered, suggesting that Utah parents have the ability to take their children to any school they want, even if it’s out of bounds where you live.

“But in order to vote, parents need information,” Fillmore said.

Sandall and others encouraged parents to talk to their neighbors about which schools are the best.

Fillmore added, “I think the grade was the wrong kind of information. It did not give parents an accurate picture of what was going on at school. But if we remove all disclosures, that worries me a little.”

Fillmore had been running a similar bill for the past three sessions to get rid of school grades. Its included formulation that the dashboard system would replace this measurement.

However, the dashboard is independently operated by the Utah State Board of Education, which has given no indication that it will not continue to provide and update it. And the bill doesn’t break that down, Sandall said. It also has a line stating that a measurement and report of each school will continue in some form.

Riebe told her that means the dashboard, but she said lawmakers could sort that out next year if needed.

school comparisons

Another bill passed in this session would require the state school board to create a program that would allow parents to compare the merits of different schools.

Representative Karen Peterson, R-Clinton, sponsored HB249, which also passed the House and Senate unanimously.

The measure requires the state school board to have a parent portal that lists, among other things: resources for those who are being bullied, mental health programs, how to make a complaint, and ways to change enrollment.

The portal will also include the ability to compare two schools with performance measurements and other data. And a newly hired parent engagement specialist is available to help and work with parents on any concerns.

During a debate last month, Peterson said, “We want parents to know what’s going on in schools.”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2023/03/02/utah-school-grades-are-now-dead/ Utah high school grades are dead now. How do you know how your school is doing?

Justin Scaccy

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