Eight Utah public and private schools are not living up to accreditation standards, mainly because teachers are deemed underqualified or overloaded, the State Office of Education reports.
The State Board of Education will receive the accreditation report today. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington believes fingered schools a fraction of those identified as not up to snuff last year will work to fix problems.
Accreditation standards aim to ensure students receive a quality education and that student credits are transferrable, state associate superintendent Brenda Hales said. It is a rigorous process, taken seriously by schools and the state.
"To get that approved status is quite a feather in a school's cap," Hales said.
Hundreds of Utah public and private schools were approved in the latest accreditation review. Four Granger, Provo, Hillcrest and Navajo Mountain high schools were placed on advised status, meaning they need to address problem areas.
Meridian private school in Provo, in its first three years of accreditation, received advised-provisional status, said Georgia Loutensock, education specialist for accreditation and state chairwoman for Northwest Association of Accredited Schools.
Last year, 30 schools were placed on advised status, Hales said. Accreditation reviews changed this year to include a point system that essentially gives less weight to criteria such as teacher workload a problem for Utah, which has the biggest class sizes in the country.
Teacher workloads under Northwest standards cannot exceed 210 students for those working an eight-period block, 180 students for those on a traditional schedule, and 160 if they're on a trimester schedule, Loutensock said.
Granger, Provo and Hillcrest each had some overloaded teachers.
Workloads can be exceeded when teachers choose to earn extra money by teaching during one of their preparation periods, Provo District assistant superintendent Ray Morgan said.
Indeed, Granger High doubled the number of teachers with excessive loads to 30. Teachers have taken on intervention classes for students who may struggle to pass the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test required for high school graduation, Granite assistant superintendent Linda Mariotti said. The school also has a new weekly advisory period for teachers to mentor students.
"That would be showing up for all those teachers as an additional load," Mariotti said. If that were better explained, "I don't think they would get dinged for that."
Both Granger and Provo are in the third year of advised status; if they don't improve next go-around, they'll be warned one step above losing accreditation.
Provo is making strides. "I would anticipate next year Provo's going to be approved," Morgan said.
Provo also had one underqualified teacher, a standard that mirrors that of No Child Left Behind, which bans teachers from teaching outside the subject of their major. So it may be that a star math teacher could be found underqualified because she also teaches chemistry, for example.
Hillcrest had five underqualified teachers when the report was submitted, but the school since has improved on that and has received additional teachers to tackle deficiencies, said June LeMaster, Jordan District executive director over the Hillcrest area.
Meridian, a school for preschoolers through high school seniors, lacks state-certified teachers, though many have master's and doctorate degrees, spokeswoman Kris Crowther said.
Loutensock said some teachers are Brigham Young University faculty.
The school is seeking accreditation through the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools, which offers rigorous standards with flexibility. Loutensock said the state will carry its Northwest accreditation through the process.
Navajo Mountain in rural San Juan County is grappling with a 50 percent teacher turnover, resulting in a lack of student support and a need for more professional development, Hales said.
"We're confident the new principal is going to work on issues," Hales said.Three private schools lost accreditation. Legacy private school in Syracuse and High Point Academy in Duchesne County are believed to have closed. The Ronald N. Hatch Academy in Washington County, attached to the Eagle Dancer Youth and Family Services, is no longer a school; the foster care program now uses online classes, director Scott Smith said.