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Lawmakers approve changes to school grades

Published: Thursday, March 13 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

The Utah House voted Thursday in a favor of a bill that makes changes to the school grading system. (Shutterstock) The Utah House voted Thursday in a favor of a bill that makes changes to the school grading system. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite several lawmakers voicing objections to the act of grading school performance, a bill that revises Utah's school grading system gained majority support in the House and Senate on Thursday.

Representatives voted 62-12 in favor of SB209, which excludes alternative high schools and new schools from school grading, and replaces the automatic F grade several schools received for low participation with a single letter grade penalty.

"Some of these changes, we believe, make school grading stronger and particularly more fair," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, the bill's House sponsor.

The proposed revisions also grant flexibility to the State School Board during the transition from the Criterion-Referenced Test to this year's computer adaptive testing system and exclude students with an individualized eduction program requiring more than four years of high schooling from counting against a school's graduation rate.

Debate on the provisions of the bill itself was relatively minimal, but a number of lawmakers spoke in opposition to the original school grading law, which was passed last year.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said there is no way to account for the many variables that contribute to school performance and accurately provide an indication of a school's quality through a letter grade.

"We’re trying to shame schools into improvement by attaching a scarlet letter, so to speak, and shaming is not the way to improve behavior," Nelson said. "This (law) is so fundamentally flawed that the remedy is not amendment but rather repeal."

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said he voted in favor of the original bill with some reluctance. After the grades were issued, Handy said he visited several school community councils in his district and found that very few parents were aware of the grades their school had received.

Handy said his hope is that school grades will lead to greater parental involvement, but the grading system has not yet resulted in much action.

"If we can make it easier for a parent to see an assessment on their school, then maybe they will be motivated to be involved with their school," he said.

Following the vote on SB209 by the House, which included amendments to the bill, members of the Utah Senate voted to concur with the House actions. The bill will now go before the governor for his signature.

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