SALT LAKE CITY — Slightly more Utah elementary and middle schools received D's and F's in 2017, slightly more earned C's, and fewer earned A's and B's, according to data state education officials released Monday.
Among high schools, there was a slight increase in schools that earning A's, a decrease in schools that received B grades and increases in schools with grades C, D and F, according to new data.
Utah law requires public schools to be given a letter grade based on student proficiency and growth on Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence tests. For high schools, ACT test results and graduation rates also figure into the grades. For elementary schools, literacy test results factor into the letter grades.
“The Utah State Board of Education continues to look into the reasons behind student scores as well as school grades,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said in a statement.
“We are working with our governing partners both in the state and school districts and charters to take steps to improve student achievement,” Dickson said.
In Canyons School District, 78 percent of its elementary and middle schools received A or B grades this year — up 5 percent from last year, according to district officials.
Two of Canyons' Title I schools experienced the most growth, with East Midvale Elementary School jumping to a B grade after last year's D. Sandy Elementary, meanwhile, improved from a C to a B. Midvale Elementary School, however, dropped from a D to an F.
Danya Bodell, assistant principal at East Midvale, attributed the school's B grade to the hard work of staff and students alike.
"I think sometimes with the challenges we face, especially in Title I schools, it feels like progress can’t be made but that’s not true. I think there are things you can do that really impact student learning, and we’ve shown when you work hard and follow research-based practices, that you can make a big difference in students’ lives," Bodell said.
Monday's release of school grades marks the final time Utah will use the current and controversial school accountability system, which underwent frequent changes during its use.
A new program was established under SB220, approved by state lawmakers earlier this year. It also will award letter grades, but the benchmarks are still being established.
For the current academic year, at least, there will be no letter grades issued by state education leaders to allow schools time to transition to the new system.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, said the state is working toward a dashboard that will hopefully provide a fuller picture of a school's characteristics and outcomes on multiple measures.
"Our biggest concern is, what good does school grading bring about? How does it help to improve schools? By simply reducing all the complexity of a school, all the elements, big picture of a school into one single letter grade, it really decreases the transparency of a school," Matthews said.
Letter grades are "quite misleading when you over-emphasize the measure of student performance simply by a standardized test that doesn't represent the programs and breadth of opportunities that a school provides," she said.
A letter grades for schools as an accountability measure is "really a failed policy,"Matthews said.
"It's not helpful. It doesn't bolster student success. It doesn't serve as an indicator of where there are additional needs, where we can be investing more. These school letter grades simply serve to shame and punish," Matthews said.
With the exception of Canyons District, every school district in Salt Lake County had at least one high school that received an F grade.
At least 15 charter schools also received F grades, along with three school districts, Ogden, San Juan and Salt Lake, that each had at least three schools with F grades.
Park City School District's Treasure Mountain Middle School also received an F, which school district officials said reflected a growing opt-out rate on SAGE tests and ignores other factors such as the school is the only feeder school to Park City High School, which has a nation-leading 97 percent high school graduation rate. Moreover, Park City students outperform the state on Advanced Placement tests and ACT tests.
"Students' performance on SAGE is not an accurate picture of how well our students achieve," a statement from the school district said.
Charter schools also had some of the highest marks, including Intech Collegiate High School, Itineris Early College High, Utah County Academy of Science and the Academy of Math Engineering and Sciences.
Two elementary schools in San Juan County, which is remote and has high percentages of students from low-income households, each improved from D to C grades.
Two elementary schools in Salt Lake School District — M. Lynn Bennion and Riley — also jumped two grade levels from F's in 2015-16 to C's in 2016-17.
Conversely, both Treasure Mountain Middle School in Park City and James Madison Elementary School in Ogden dropped from C grades in 2015-16 to F's in 2016-17.
To see all public school report cards, visit the Utah State Board of Education's website, datagateway.schools.utah.gov/Accountability/SchoolGrades/2017.