Grading school grades: Parents speak out on accountability scores

Published: Sunday, Oct. 6 2013 8:13 a.m. MDT

Two of Goodrich's children attend Con Amore. Because of her involvement with the school, she said she knows what goes on and the effort being made to educate students. But parents at other schools receiving F, D or C grades may not realize that the grades and scores focus solely on test scores to judge a school's success or failure, Goodrich said.

"It’s not really reflecting how well the teachers are doing," she said. "It’s refelecting the attitude of the students they have."

For Patti Garrison, a school community council member at the alternative Landmark High School in Spanish Fork, the school's D grade is a continuation of the misperception surrounding the school and its students.

Landmark High, with a large population of at-risk students, earned a D under the school grading system and 294 points out of 600 under the accountability system, well below the state median of 419.

Garrison said her son, a senior, struggled at several schools before attending Landmark High and has seen success since enrolling there.

"His grades have gone from failing to A's and B's," she said. "I’m very pleased with (the school), and I tell everybody that. If their children are struggling at another high school, I say, 'You should look at Landmark.'"

Garrison said Landmark has its challenges, like any other high school, but overall she is pleased with the attentiveness of the teaching staff, the small class sizes and the commitment to students, most of whom do not have the same opportunities as typical Utah high school students.

"They’re not your normal high school. The kids are at-risk kids like mine, and I think they should be graded separately," she said. "Of course I’d like to see the (school's) grade improve, but I’m pretty happy with what they're doing right now. They’re motiviating those students that otherwise would be failing in other schools."

Do the scores matter?

Todd Cottle, chairman of the Logan High School Community Council, said his immediate reaction after Logan High received a C grade and a below-average accountability score was to dismiss both systems as arbitrary.

Cottle mentioned April's U.S. News and World Report rankings, which named Logan High School as the best comprehensive high school in the state and the third-best high school overall in Utah. He also spoke of his years of personal experience working with the school as a parent and community member.

"I have to admit, it doesn’t mean anything to me," Cottle said of the accountability reports. "I’ve lived in Logan for 30 years. My kids have all gone through Logan High. Who can tell me, better than I already know, what’s going on at Logan High School?"

As a member of the community council, Cottle is involved in the creation of a school improvement plan for Logan High School. He said for a school to improve its accountability scores, administrators would have to focus resources on the metrics that shape those scores — in this case, math, English and science Criterion Referenced Tests.

But since no additional resources are given to schools to help with school improvement, that would mean pulling resources away from other Logan High programs.

Cottle said parents and educators have seen this before — a new state or national program that judges schools based on a narrow set of criteria. But often those programs prove to have little bearing on what is actually happening at the local level.

"I think the school community councils probably have the best handle on what their schools need," he said. "That’s their mandate."

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said there is value in focusing a school's efforts on English, math and science, since those are the core subjects necessary for a person to attend college or have a career.

"We need to strengthen those," he said. "Especially, I think, elementary schools need to have more focus on those core subjects because you’re bulding a base."

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