Tooele County School District’s schools have a combined grade point average of 2.04, according to the first round of letter grades for public schools released by the Utah State Office of Education on Sept. 3.
In TCSD there were no “A,” schools, while 33 percent earned a “B,” 46 percent received a “C,” 13 percent were graded “D” and 8 percent got an “F.”
Four elementary schools and all three junior high schools in Tooele Valley received “B” grades. Dugway High School also earned a “B,” along with the independent public charter school, Excelsior Academy.”
Vernon Elementary and Blue Peak High School were the only schools in the county with an “F.”
Statewide 11 percent of schools earned an “A,” 45 percent a “B,” 30 percent a “C,” 10 percent a “D,” and 4 percent an “F.”
Some educators are unhappy with the new school grading system that was passed by the Utah legislature in the waning days of the 2013 session. But Scott Rogers, Tooele County School District superintendent, vows to take the data and use it to motivate school improvement.
“The grading system may have some flaws, and I haven’t been here long enough to understand the political issues,” he said. “But I’m not here to make excuses. Our job as a district is to take this information and use it to improve learning, and we need to do that with a sense of urgency.”
The superintendent has already set out to upgrade Vernon School.
“I’ve already been out to Vernon to listen to the community and work with the teachers,” said Rogers, who also serves as the district’s elementary director. “Blue Peak High School is different. I don’t think the grading system was designed to deal with alternative schools. Their grade is not an accurate reflection of what goes on in that school.”
In response to the grades, Rogers is working on a plan.
“The idea is to use data to identify where we need to improve in each school and implement strategies that will accomplish those improvements,” he said.
Rogers is convinced that as instruction improves school grades will follow. The emphasis will be to improve instruction and student performance, not just the school’s letter grade.
“This is exciting,” he said. “I know how to improve school and student performance. I did that in the last two districts where I worked.”
The new letter grading system, which issued grades for the first time this fall, awards points to schools based on student performance on annual tests that measure proficiency in math, language arts, and science. High schools are also awarded points for their graduation rate.
Letter grades are awarded based on the percentage of possible points a school earns.
A score of 80 percent or better earns a school an “A”; between 79 to 70 percent a “B”; from 69 to 60 percent a “C”; between 59 and 50 percent a “D”; and at or below 49 percent an “F.”
The new grading system awards schools not just for the number of students that reach proficiency, but also for the amount of growth students make in the school year.
Student growth is measured by comparing the performance of individual students with the performance of other students who performed at the same level in the past on core tests.
The grading system awards up to 300 points for the number of students that score proficient on Criteria-referenced Tests (CRT) administered in the spring. Another 300 points are possible for student growth. High schools may receive an additional 150 points based on their graduation rate.
The 300 growth points are accumulated equally from two different groups of students.
A total of 150 growth points are awarded based on the growth of all students in a school and another 150 points are awarded for growth of students that are below proficiency in math, science, or language arts.
Including student growth in the score allows schools to receive points for students that may be behind in proficiency but made improvement. It also rewards schools when students that are already at proficiency continue to improve their scores.
However, if a student does not make sufficient progress in a year by reaching a pre-determined level of improvement set by the State School Board, then the school receives no points for the growth of that student.
There is also a participation threshold for Criteria-referenced Tests. If 95 percent of all students or 95 percent of the students that are below proficiency do not take CRTs, the school receives an “F” regardless of how many points they have accumulated.
The new school grading system is in addition to the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System that the state school board unveiled last year.
Similar to the new grading system, UCAS awards points based on proficiency and student growth, as well as college readiness for high schools.
UCAS is a better measure of school performance, and the new letter grade system is duplicative, according to the Utah Superintendents Association.
McKell Withers, superintendent of the Salt Lake School District and president of the Utah Superintendents Association, is critical of the letter grade system and SB271 S3 that authorized it.
“To add yet another accountability measure in the form of simplified school grades as required under SB271 S3 is unnecessary, politically motivated rather than research based, and offers no help in the real work of improving schools,” wrote Withers to Gov. Gary Herbert in a letter the week before school grades were announced .
The Utah Education Association supports UCAS but refers to the single grading system as flawed.
“Flaws in the law include inadequate measurement of students achievement growth, inappropriate labeling of schools based on student test participation, and concerns about the way secondary schools are graded,” reads a statement about SB271 S3 on the UEA’s website.
Along with the release of school grades, State Superintendent Martell Menlove encouraged the use of the grades not as an end, but a means to create a dialogue on school performance.
“I invite parents and those interested in the performance of Utah’s public schools to use these school grades as an invitation to further explore our schools and how well students are doing,” said Menlove.