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Regardless of the explanations that schools and lawmakers offer, the general public will find drastically lower results confusing at best and alarming at worst. In our grade-happy environment, nobody likes to be saddled with an F.
Regardless of the explanations that schools and lawmakers offer, the general public will find drastically lower results confusing at best and alarming at worst. In our grade-happy environment, nobody likes to be saddled with an F.

Last year, Utah released its first round of SAGE test results, which gave each Utah school a letter grade based on student performance. Many parents were disheartened to discover that their school received, on average, B or C grades. If that’s the case, they’ll be even more disappointed to discover that, according to preliminary results, the majority of schools this year will receive a D or an F.

But those failing grades belie the fact that student performance hasn’t changed. Rather, the bar has been set higher than it was in the previous year, making passing grades more difficult to achieve. “Our schools will be doing as good a job as they have done in the past,” Associate State Superintendent Judy Park recently told the state school board.

But it’s the rules, not the kids and teachers, that have changed.

That means either the test itself was flawed the first time around, or it’s flawed now. Either way, it’s an inconsistent way to evaluate school performance.

Regardless of the explanations that schools and lawmakers offer, the general public will find these drastically lower results confusing at best and alarming at worst. In our grade-happy environment, nobody likes to be saddled with an F.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that we’re still about a month away from learning what those scores actually were. The premise behind the SAGE testing — which was done in the spring — was that the previous year’s results would provide guidance for schools looking to improve.

Results released in October come when the school is already in full swing and unable to make the kinds of adjustments that the tests would suggest. So schools finding out that they’re failing will have to endure the stigma of a failing grade without having the opportunity to do anything about it for a full year. So performance would be unlikely to change, which would therefore result in two consecutive years of embarrassingly low grades before the school had the opportunity to adjust.

That doesn’t make any sense.

The solution state school board member Debra Roberts has proposed is a one-year “freeze” on school grades in order to allow schools to establish a baseline and better prepare for the results next time around. That’s a possible solution — as long as a temporary “freeze” isn’t turned into a total “freeze-out” of the grading system.

Much of our society — starting with schools but certainly not being exclusive to them — is based on grading, evaluation, progress and result. School performance, evaluation and improvement can and should follow the same track.

There’s nothing wrong with demanding accountability and higher standards, but inconsistency in the tools used to measure them doesn’t do anyone any good. Nor does excessive delays in reporting the measures, especially in this era of electronic, digital, high-tech testing and analytics.

Students being tardy is always frowned on at school. It should be the same for test results as well.