When George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the measure enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support. And why not? It was a commendable first effort at tracking schools’ performance across the nation by focusing on groups of students that had been neglected in the past.
But NCLB had flaws that became increasingly evident over time. It was too black and white, branding schools as either making “adequate yearly progress” or not, without any room for gradations of performance. It unfairly portrayed some good schools as failing because a small subgroup of students had not performed well during testing. Worst of all, its escalating standards meant all schools were destined to fail eventually.
To replace NCLB, the state devised its new Utah Comprehensive Accountability System, which went into effect at the start of the month. We think UCAS is a giant stride in the right direction. It keeps NCLB’s overall aim of tracking schools’ performance but greatly improves the methodology behind scoring schools and provides incentives for progress rather than disincentives for failure.
UCAS uses more core testing data than NCLB did. It also divides emphasis equally between a school’s overall academic performance and the improvement it made over the previous year.
For Tooele County, the first results out of the new system weren’t entirely positive. Thirteen of the 23 schools in the Tooele County School District scored below the state average. But there were also pockets of quality: Small Dugway High School was the No. 2 high school in the state. Clarke Johnsen Junior High racked up an impressive score at the junior high level. And Stansbury, Overlake, East and Vernon elementary schools, plus Excelsior Academy, all scored above the state average for elementary schools.
The important part about all this is that for the first time we have an accurate yardstick for comparing schools in Utah. The best schools will be praised and their methods emulated. Questions will be asked of underperforming schools. All that is exactly as it should be.
Parents deserve to know how their schools are performing. UCAS makes that possible. We regard it as an excellent new tool for pushing accountability in education in Utah.