Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For most of the year, the Education Task Force — and particularly Ogden's Sen. Stuart Reid — has been asking teachers, administrators and state education officials for the five key factors that contribute to student success.
The ongoing discussion has yielded various responses, but on Friday lawmakers were presented with the closest thing yet to a general consensus as the State School Board presented its list of priorities for improving high school student achievement.
Included on the list were five key areas: strong school leadership, high-quality instruction, appropriate assessments for data-driven decision-making, targeted interventions and high-quality professional development for teachers.
"I think this is a very helpful tool," Reid said of the board's priorities. "I think it could be a tool that somehow unites us in our effort, helps us to streamline where our focus is and prioritize the budget that is most effective for the benefit of all children in our education system."
Reid said he was pleased with the school board's presentation and he anticipates making a motion for the task force to endorse the recommendations during next month's meeting.
"I think what they presented for us hits the target exactly," Reid said.
Reid sponsored the bill that created the Education Task Force during the most recent legislative session. At the time, Reid said, he hoped the task force would lead to an overall vision and direction for education governance and fewer pieces of reactive legislation being brought forward.
Many bills are meritorious when examined individually, Reid said in March, but potentially draw time and resources away from legislation that serves to advance a larger statewide cause.
On Friday, Reid said he hoped the State School Board would use its list of key factors when evaluating whether to support or oppose specific legislation. That way, he said, lawmakers would know which bills align with an area of emphasis.
"Those that do not (align) will need added explanation from the sponsor as to why the bill is important," Reid said.
David Thomas said he and the other school board members were amenable to providing that context as they discuss potential legislation.
"The state board will, in going through bills, evaluate them against these five factors," Thomas told members of the task force. "We will do that for you and provide that to you."
While presenting the board's priority areas, Thomas said efforts are already underway at improving the quality of educating and implementing data-driven assessments.
"As the Legislature knows, we’ve gone though a process of updating our standards, making them more rigorous and higher quality," Thomas said. "We’ve also worked with the Legislature on computer adaptive tests and moving in that direction."
But he said many needs remain in addressing student achievement, particularly professional development and resources to allow teachers to meet together and collaborate on strategies.
"One of those things we need is professional learning for middle school math teachers," he said. 'That is our No. 1 priority in terms of ongoing moneys."
He also said that with the state's school grading system now in place, funding for school improvement grants is needed to provide assistance to struggling schools.
The State Office of Education recently presented its budget requests to Gov. Gary Herbert. Those requests included roughly $180 million in new, ongoing funding as well as other one-time investments, Menlove said.
Utah schools currently receive the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation and the influx of new students next year is expected to cost roughly $70 million to maintain funding programs at their current level.
Menlove said the school board's budget was prepared based on what could reasonably be expected from existing revenues. But in order for the state to achieve its larger goals for education — including 90 percent student proficiency in math and reading and a 90 percent statewide graduation rate — a more significant investment in education will be required.
"It will take a hefty investment of new dollars to have that happen," Menlove said. "I don’t have a specific number but it’s a fairly sizeable number, I would believe."
Menlove emphasized that many worthwhile school initiatives could be included in one or more of the categories listed by the State School Board. He also added that just because a specific intervention is not included on the list does not mean it is not important, but that the list was intentionally limited to the five most important areas for clarity and efficacy.
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