SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers in the Utah Senate showed early support Wednesday for a bill that would change the way the state's controversial school grades are calculated.

SB209, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, would exclude alternative high schools, new schools and students with an individualized learning program from the calculation of school grades. The bill would also penalize schools with a low testing participation with a single letter grade deduction, rather than the current F grade those schools automatically receive.

During debate on the bill, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said two high schools in his Senate district — West High and Viewmont High — were penalized with an F grade. He said school grades, which were released for the first time last year, are a step in the right direction, and SB209 further improves the process of assessing school performance.

"This bill fixes that problem," Weiler said.

But Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, spoke against school grading. She said individual schools manage unique challenges with unique resources — such as areas with high refugee and at-risk populations, and schools that receive federal grants — but are evaluated under a uniform standard of criteria.

"I just hate comparing schools that have more advantages than others," Jones said.

The bill was approved on second reading in a 17-8 vote. It will be read and voted on a third time prior to advancing to the House for consideration.

— Benjamin Wood