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Is your school a top school? New scores coming Sept. 30

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

Sixth-graders in Patti White's class work on projects at Morningside Elementary School in Holladay on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. The school has an A grade from the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this month, Utah's public schools received their first letter grades under a new system that evaluates a school's performance and offers a letter grade, from A to F.

On Sept. 30, schools will be hit with new scores from the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, the state's other education performance evaluation system that is now in its second year.

"They’re based in the same data set, students taking the test," John Jesse, director of assessments for the State Office of Education, said. "It’s the exact same (student) scores; however, we’ve done some different things with that data set."

Letter grades are not assigned with this evaluation, but the results will be comparable to the grades released Sept 3, when 11 percent of schools 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.

Differences in the calculation means there will be instances of high-scoring schools in the school grading system falling below the state average in the report, with others with a poor letter grade rising, Jesse said.

Here's why:

The reports will include a breakdown of a school's score, as well as how that school's overall points, achievement points and growth points compare to the state average.

Jesse said neither evaluation system is more accurate than the other; they reflect different things. In both systems, schools are awarded points based on student proficiency — referred to as achievement points — and the improvement students demonstrate year to year, referred to as growth points.

But in the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, points for graduation rates are included in the achievement category, whereas under school grading an additional 150 achievement points are possible at the high school level, meaning the impact of student growth on a school's final score is lessened.

Next year, when ACT scores are added to school grading, that imbalance between growth and achievement will be even more pronounced.

"That means the ratio between achievement points and growth points has been changed significantly," Jesse said of the school grading methodology. "I would suggest that if you look at it statistically, it makes it so that growth isn’t being weighted to any significant degree."

The comprehensive accountability system also uses median scores in its calculation of growth, meaning that every individual student's performance is reflected in the overall points that a school receives. The school grading system establishes a minimum growth percentile, only awarding points to students who score above a set threshold.

"Which one is right? Neither one is right," Jesse said. "It’s based in values and they should both be defensible."

Accountability

Judi Clark, executive director of Parents For Choice in Education, which advocated for school grading and collaborated with lawmakers in drafting the bill that led to school grading, said the grading system is designed to hold high schools accountable for how well they prepare students for higher education. It is not designed to outweigh student growth.

"Having additional points for college-readiness and graduation gives a different perspective as to the performance of high schools as a whole," she said. "It’s really about properly measuring the outputs of our high schools and a major component of a high school’s success is in their graduation rate and college- and career-readiness assessments."

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