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Utah public schools may be asked to 'make the grade'

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 9 2010 11:02 p.m. MST

Kids color their name tags in a Midvale Elementary School.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's public schools may start getting "graded" in the future as part of a concentrated, cost-effective way to improve the quality of education in the state.

Legislators and members of the Governor's Education Excellence Commission say grading could be among the elements of reform that will be a top priority in the upcoming Legislative session.

"The entire community gets involved if a school is getting a D or an F, " said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "Because of student results, it mobilizes the entire community to engage and make a difference."

Grading schools is an idea already in place in Florida and was presented to legislators by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush this past summer.

"It's working well in Florida," Stephenson said.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway said he is also impressed with Florida's results. The grading system would actually be a series of grades, based on public input on subjects like parent satisfaction, math, reading and other topics.

Gov. Gary Herbert says he is open to a bill that would enable such a program. The governor and the rest of his Education Excellence Commission are also advocating the continuation of the all-day kindergarten pilot project, on reducing class sizes and encouraging professional development for teachers.

Shumway said all are cost effective ways to make public education better.

"We're hoping we can keep those things on the table also as we move forward with an agenda to grade schools." Shumway said.

Even though the economy is picking up, continuing all-day kindergarten will cost $7.5 million next year, Herbert said. He said he is dedicated to funding student growth, which could be as much as $75 million.

"What we can do is going to be based on what we can afford," Herbert said. "And I think that will be a discussion we will have."

Educators are convinced Utah schools can improve without new, expensive programs.

But the system will still have to compete with other state agencies, which are also hurting for cash right now.

e-mail: rpiatt@desnews.com

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