SALT LAKE CITY — In 15 years as a school superintendent in Utah, Terry Shoemaker operated under so many different accountability systems he's "lost count."
"We're very anxious to see a single state accountability system adopted," said Shoemaker, addressing the Senate Education Committee Thursday afternoon as it debated SB220. "It's time for that."
The committee gave unanimous support to what the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, dubbed "Assessment and Accountability 2.0."
The legislation establishes two metrics, one for elementary and middle schools, and a second for high schools.
The elementary/middle school metric awards points according to the percent of students who score proficient or above on a statewide test; academic growth; academic growth of the school's lowest performing quartile; and progress of English learners.
The high school metric awards points based on the four measurements of younger students but also takes into consideration school graduation rates; students who score 18 and higher on the ACT; and the percentage of students who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or advanced career and technical education courses.
"We’ve tried very hard to make this as ZIP code neutral as we can," said Millner, former president of Weber State University.
According to the legislation, schools would score points, a maximum of 150 points at the elementary and middle school levels, and 225 for high schools because there are more factors by which schools will be assessed, Millner said.
“It gives us balanced measure of multiple measures of performance," Millner said of the high school metric.
The plan envisions assigning letter grades, although the corresponding scores have not yet been determined.
A school that receives an A grade would be considered exemplary. A grade of B, commendable and C, typical. A school with a grade of D is termed "developing," and F means a school has critical needs.
Millner said the plan calls for the Utah State Board of Education to create a dashboard "of overall indicators" that would be transparent and readily accessible.
The metrics were developed jointly by state lawmakers and the state education officials, she said.
"I can see a lot of effort has been put into this. I hope we got it right this time," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.
Stephenson questioned why the assessment for middle schools and elementary school totaled to 150 points instead of 100.
"I think it's confusing to have 150 points when you’re really doing percentages," he said.
Stephenson also asked for the rationale behind using an 18-plus score on the ACT as a benchmark.
"What about a school district that is really bringing up kids and they don't have many at 18 plus but they had a lot that were really low on the ACT and they bring everybody to 17? They've done amazing work that doesn't get recognized," Stephenson said.
Millner said the group determined that a score of 18 was a college and career benchmark and some members of the group suggested an even higher score.
"There was a lot of discussion where was the appropriate place. It felt like at the end of the day we focused on every student. We ought to be helping every student here get to an 18, because if they want to go on to college, they're going to need to be able to do that to get into colleges and universities. It feels like it needs to be the minimum standard we start from," she said.
Others, like Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said his concern about any assessment system "is not what's written but what's actually applied."
Some schools might attempt "to game" the system rather than use it to improve outcomes for students, he said.
"We want every one of our children to do well," Hillyard said.
Sara Jones, government relations director for the Utah Education Association, said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires a period of public comment on a state accountability plan before it is submitted to the federal government.
"Do we want to be so specific in code when this public period comment comes forward after the legislative session ends and this public comment begins in April, May, June, something like that, that you really can't adjust the plan in response to that public comment required under ESSA?"
Neither UEA nor the Utah State School Boards Association took a position on the bill, which moves to the full Senate for its consideration.