School grading and the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System have been at odds since March, when legislators passed the bill that made school grading a law with little input from educators and the State School Board.
In 2011, the State Office of Education began working on the comprehensive accountability system, intended to serve as the state's lone accountability system, which was ultimately approved by the U.S. Department of Education as part of Utah's waiver from the requirement of No Child Left Behind.
That waiver ensures that, at least for the time being, Utah will operate with two competing accountability/grading systems. Both educators and lawmakers have said they want to return to a single system, but the two camps remain divided on which system should cede to the other.
"I think it’s fair to say that the State (School) Board has not had a conversation about submitting school grading to the federal government," said Associate State Superintendent Judy Park. "That has not been on the agenda, nor has it been a discussion of the State Board of Education."
Achievement and growth
She said the comprehensive accountability system was developed under a set of guiding principles, which included a desire to reflect both achievement and growth and to create a system that makes it possible for all schools to demonstrate success.
She said school grading does not meet that principle because it does not allow for all schools to reach an A-grade status.
"I do not believe that is possible," she said.
She also said the school grading system's focus on achievement and use of a minimum growth percentile makes it difficult for a school with a large below-proficient population to improve its grade, even if students show significant growth from year to year.
"It creates a pass/fail system and pass/fail always creates a ceiling," she said. "That high growth will never be allowed to offset the other factors and raise that school's grade."
But Clark said that while school grading is open to alteration by the Legislature, that system, and not the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, is the one recognized in Utah statute as the state's school accountability system. In that sense, she said, school grading already is the only accountability system in the state and should be submitted to the federal government accordingly.
"It’s our state’s accountability system," Clark said. "I think it only makes sense to complete the simple amendment that’s been out for years that would allow them to accept school grading as our federal accountability system as well."
She also said that in just a few short weeks, school grading has achieved its goal of being a simple, easy-to-understand metric that students, parents and educators can use to evaluate the performance of a school.
"It has really started a dialogue," Clark said. "We’ve got more people engaged in the idea of how our schools are performing and how we can better prepare our students."
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