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September 5, 2013
New grading system raises performance bar on schools

With the implementation of third-substitute Senate Bill 271, Utah schools have two different accountability systems.

Each school received a letter grade this week from the legislative adopted school grading system. They will also receive a score from the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System adopted by the Utah State Board of Education in 2012.

The state school board developed UCAS after legislation passed in 2011, which spells out criteria for a grading system and gave the state board authority to make rules to implement that system.

Similar to the new school grading system, UCAS awards points based on proficiency and student growth, as well as college readiness for high schools.

UCAS differs from the new grading system in how it awards points for student growth.

In UCAS, points are awarded to schools for all students that show growth compared to their academic peers, while the new school grading system only awards growth points for students that reach a sufficient level of growth.

Under the school grading system there may be students that improve their test scores, but because they did not improve enough, the grading system does not recognize their growth.

UCAS also differs from the grading system because it does not give letter grades to schools; instead, the total score and the percentile ranking of schools are made public. The percentile rank tells what percent of schools received a lower score.

In 2012, UCAS replaced the federal Adequate Yearly Progress Report and the state UPASS scoring system under a federal waiver for the AYP portion of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The new grading system is the result of SB271 S3 that passed in the legislature this year. It modified the 2011 school grading legislation.

SB271 was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, on Monday, March 4  with nine days of business left in the 2013 legislative session. The bill was sent to the Senate education committee. Two days after being introduced in the Senate, it received a hearing and was sent to the Senate floor.

The following Monday, March 11, with the normal rules suspended, SB271 passed its second and third reading on the Senate floor with one 16-10 vote.

The House sent the bill from the rules committee directly to the House floor. After some discussion on the floor, the bill was substituted with a new version and passed with a narrow margin of 38-36 on the last day of the session.

Reps. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, voted against SB 271, while Sens. Dan Thatcher, R-West Valley City, and Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, both supported SB271. Thatcher and Knudson each represent a part of Tooele County.

Sagers said he voted against the bill because he thought it was bad legislation and did not like how the bill was handled.

“It was like the Senate waited for the last minute to introduce the bill so it could be rushed through the process with little public exposure or consideration by the House,” he said. “The process was disingenuous. We did not have adequate time to review the bill.”

With the passage of SB271 the state now has two accountability systems. Letter grades were announced this week and in two weeks the Utah State Office of Education is set to release its UCAS scores.

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