SALT LAKE CITY — After an hour of sometimes testy debate Tuesday, the Utah House of Representatives rejected an attempt to purge school grades from legislation that creates a new public school accountability and student assessment system.
The House instead adopted an amended version of SB220, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden. The amendment puts school grading on hold for a year while schools collect baseline data and ramp up to other changes in the legislation.
Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, attempted to substitute Millner's legislation with the language of the school accountability bill she had sponsored, HB241. Poulson's bill passed the House on a vote of 54-18 on Feb. 24. However, the bill was later tabled in the Senate Education Committee.
The most significant difference between Poulson's bill and SB220 was that Poulson's legislation eliminates the requirement that schools receive letter grades. Poulson says letter grades are demoralizing to schools in low-income neighborhoods, rural schools or those that have high numbers of children who speak English as a second language.
Poulson said her bill was supported by teachers, administrators, parents and professional organizations.
Before the House could vote on the substitute, an amendment was proposed to Millner's bill by putting school grading on hold for a year. That eventually passed, but Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, made a second attempt to substitute SB220 with the language from HB241, which failed on a vote of 27-45.
While some representatives lobbied for Poulson's approach, Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, urged House members to consider the "political reality" of substituting the language with a competing bill.
Time is running out on the legislative session, which adjourns at midnight Thursday, and it is unlikely the Senate would pass the substitute legislation, he said.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, urged House members to consider another "political reality."
"I'd like to ask you: Who do you represent, your colleagues and friends here or the people who elected you?" Moss said.
The email and other communications Moss has received during the session indicate an overwhelming dislike of school grades.
"I wonder who received the email, 'Please keep letter grades for schools. We love them,'" she said.
SB220, as amended, passed the House on a vote of 56-18. Although it passed in the Senate, senators must consider the amended version of the bill.
For students, the bill replaces SAGE testing in high schools with ACT tests in an attempt to reduce the number of students opting out of standardized testing.
New school accountability measures will also focus on growth in academic achievement and are intended to be "ZIP code neutral," Last said.
The legislation establishes metrics 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 same measurements of younger students but also takes into consideration high school graduation rates; students who score 18 and above on the ACT; and percentages of students who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or advanced career and technical education courses.