Senate OKs new school grading system

Published: Monday, March 11 2013 5:05 p.m. MDT

Public schools have only received one year's worth of data from the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, but already lawmakers are looking to replace UCAS with a new system for grading school.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Public schools have only received one year's worth of data from the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, but already lawmakers are looking to replace UCAS with a new system for grading school.

Senators on Monday passed SB271, which would create a new system for holding schools accountable for students' education and tracking school performance. Under the new system, which would operate in addition to and separate from UCAS, schools would be given a letter grade based on high school graduation rates, student proficiency growth, and college and career readiness.

"This bill actually sets criteria that is more reflective of what school grading should be," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

But many question whether a new accountability system is necessary, especially when UCAS has had so little time to develop.

The Utah Comprehensive Accountability System was created in 2011 by a bill sponsored by now-Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. It rates schools on a 600-point scale, and the first reports were released in November. At the time of its creation, officials praised UCAS for simplifying the process of rating schools.

UCAS replaced the Utah Performance System for Students (U-Pass) at the state level and the Adequate Yearly Progress reports (AYP) at the federal level. 

During debate of the bill Monday, some lawmakers questioned why the state would move back toward the confusion and contradiction of two separate systems.

"It makes this effort redundant and costly," said Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay. "What’s the value of a bifurcated system when we have one system that’s working quite well?"

Jones urged her colleagues to vote down the bill so the issue could be more properly vetted through the Education Task Force, which is expected to be created with the passage of SB169.

Similarly, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned whether the bill would simply create another level of bureaucracy that distracts teachers and administrators from their chief responsibility of educating children.

The State School Board has also taken the position that SB271 is unnecessary in light of the work that has been done on the UCAS system.

But Adams said the bill is not intended to create competing school reports but instead is a continuation of the work done in Niederhauser's previous bill, namely the requirement that schools receive a letter grade.

Niederhauser also spoke in favor of the bill, saying he is willing to work with the sponsor and members of the House of Representatives to make any necessary tweaks or amendments prior to final passage.

The bill was ultimately passed by the Senate in a 16-10 vote and will now go before the House for consideration and debate.

E-mail: benwood@deseretnews.com

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