Grades for Utah schools bring strong reaction from parents and educators

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3 2013 6:40 p.m. MDT

Principal Parley Jacobs talks about failures of the new statewide grading system, at West High School Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's controversial school grades were released Tuesday, drawing strong reaction from parents, educators and lawmakers seeking explanation for the results of this first-of-its kind report.

The grades, available on the website of the State Office of Education, are intended to increase school accountability by giving parents a clear and concise snapshot at the academic preparation of Utah's children.

"I think this is the most significant day for education in the last 20 years," said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George. "Every parent wants to know how his or her child’s school is doing and this is the best tool they’ve ever had."

Of the state's 855 public schools, 11 percent received an A grade, 45 percent received a B, 30 percent received a C, 10 percent received a D and 4 percent received an F.

The grades are determined by a point system that scores schools on the number of students proficient in English, math and science, as well as growth in proficiency and, in the case of high schools, graduation rates.

To earn an A grade, a school must receive between 80 and 100 percent of the total points possible, with 70-79 percent translating to a B, 60-69 percent for a C, 50-59 percent for a D and a F signifying less than 50 percent.

Seven Utah high schools received A grades, 60 received B grades, 45 received C grades, 15 received D grades and 16 received F grades.

Several schools were penalized with an automatic F due to the number of students who failed to take the criterion-referenced tests the grades are based on. Schools must test 95 percent of their students and 95 percent of their below-proficient students in order to avoid a failing grade.

The grades have also come under fire from educators who say they stigmatize and under-appreciate the work being done at schools in low-income areas of the state.

"You could line up the socio-economic status of the schools, in other words poverty, from highest to lowest and see a pattern of those grades across the state," Salt Lake City School District Superintendent McKell Withers said.

Withers said in most cases where a school bucked that trend – such as Salt Lake City's Glendale and Northwest middle schools – it coincided with that school receiving additional resources from the federal government.

"It takes a couple million dollars at a highly economically impacted school to change the trajectory, to help teachers have the professional development, the time, resources and materials and the investment in instruction to make a difference," he said.

Few consequences

Among the criticisms of the new release is that there is no financial support or consequences tied to Utah's school grading system.

Natalie Gordon, a parent of three children in Davis County schools, said the grades should be used to identify schools that require increased support. She said her daughter attends an elementary school that received a C grade, which didn't surprise her due to the number of low-income students at the school.

"My main concern was we’ve got a C now, what can be done to change it?" Gordon said. "There’s no extra funds. There’s no remediation, there’s no class size reduction, there’s no reading aides. They’re just saying ‘OK you’ve got a C, good luck with that.’"

In Davis School District, Viewmont High School scored 567 points out of 750 total. That score is higher than those of district sister schools Bountiful High, Clearfield High, Layton High, Northridge High and Woods Cross High.

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