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Should The Governor Veto The School Grading Bill?

March 28, 2013


Here is a desceiption of the bill written by Senator Stuart Reid:

In 2011, Senator Wayne Niederhauser proposed SB59 – School Grading System. The purpose of the bill was to replace the current U-PASS accountability system with a system considerate of transparency, and with a focus on both the proficiency and the learning gains of Utah students.
School Grading (which is set to go into effect this year) assigns letter grades A-F to every school based on student performance on our standardized tests. The system balances proficiency and learning gains of students via a formula that the State Board is authorized to determine. It includes an additional component for high schools that awards points based on graduation rates and passing a college readiness assessment.
Statute authorizes school grading to replace the current U-PASS accountability system. The bill did not create the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System (UCAS). School Grading is recognized in law as the state’s accountability system. It is the first system, and has been law since its effective date in 2011.
This year, at the request of Senator Niederhauser, Senator Stuart Adams proposed amendments to the School Grading System in SB271 – School Grading Amendments (for the purpose of making procedural and technical changes to the existing statute (2011 SB59), which takes effect for the 2011-2012 school year. The bill received both criticism and praise. One thing is certain about the bill – there is a lot of emotional opinion and misinformation out there on it. The legislative process can be fast-paced and confusing, and when bills are amended and substituted, oftentimes people are misinformed and information becomes outdated.

In an article published last week by the Salt Lake Tribune, Christine Kearl acknowledged that much of the opposition over SB271 coming to the governor’s office is from people who don’t seem to understand what 3rd Substitute SB 271 does and are basing their arguments on an earlier version of the bill.
In reading the bill itself, it’s apparent that the changes SB271 makes to the existing system are both simple and contrary to much of the information I’ve read. SB271 is currently waiting for the Governor’s signature before it is enacted into law. Here I attempt to make clear key components of the bill, and their impacts on the current statute.

Better Grades, Better Grading

The foremost important change that SB271 makes to the existing system is that it changes the overall grading threshold down (lines 157-165):
A school shall receive a letter grade based on the [percent] percentage of the maximum number of points the school may earn as calculated under Section 53A-1-1109 as follows:

A, 100% – [] 80%;
B, [] 79% – 70%;
C, [] 69% – 60%;
D, [] 59% – 50%; and
F, 49% or less.

Absent of SB271, the current law will go into effect with the threshold as-is. The current threshold is set high (as you can see above). It is certainly the goal that our A schools will be capable of reaching an A status, even at this high threshold. However, it is also important that the standard is not set so high at the beginning that reaching an honorable grade is not possible. The goal of the program is not for all of our schools to fail – we want every student and school within our education system to thrive. By altering the threshold, we give Utah transition time as we increase student outcomes and rigor for our state’s students.

In conjunction with the lower grading threshold, the bill also incorporates an automatic trigger. When 85% of schools get an A or a B, the percentages listed above increase by 5% until an A = 90%.

As it went through the process (from a first to a third substitute), the bill was amended for the purpose of allowing the school board more flexibility as to how the changes are implemented. As an example of this, the State Board of Education will set the standard measurement of growth to be calculated. Additionally, the bill defines student growth percentile and sufficient growth in this way:

“Student growth percentile” means the result of a statistical model that calculates each student’s change in achievement between two or more points in time on a statewide assessment and compares each student’s performance to that of similarly achieving students. (53-55)
“Sufficient growth” means a measurement of growth greater than or equal to growth at a specific percentile in the 2011-12 year adopted by the State Board of Education in rule. (56-58)

Ultimately, the bill as adopted allows the State Board to make determinations as to many of the standards set to be implemented within School Grading.
The bill also amends existing calculations for the demonstration of sufficient growth in language arts, math, and science. It removes the Direct Writing Assessment as part of the measurements included, because it is only taken twice in 12 years and does not provide a consistent measurement of proficiency or growth.

Another significant and useful change that SB271 will incorporate into the existing system is that the new bill shifts school’s grading focus for high schools – from 2/3 based on graduation and 1/3 based on indicators of college and career readiness to 1/2 and 1/2 respectively (see lines 150-153). [It should be noted that the State Board is exempted from being required to measure the college and career readiness for the 12-13 school year.]

Parents get more transparency from schools

One of the main objectives that the bill sets out to accomplish is to provide additional transparency for parents of the students involved in the School Grading process. Parents are an integral part of their child’s learning process. If student achievement is tracked but the information is not provided to the parent, then we’re not doing everything we can to help our children grow and succeed.

Additional transparency standards are set out in SB271 as follows:

For the 2012-13 school year and thereafter, the State Board of Education, in collaboration with school districts and charter schools, shall annually develop a school report card and a personal student achievement report for each public school student to be delivered to parents of students in public schools. (177-180)
The personal student achievement report shall include:

(a) information on a student’s level of proficiency as measured by a statewide assessment; and
(b) a comparison of a student’s expected learning growth and actual learning growth in a subject as measured by a statewide assessment.
(4) A school report card and personal student achievement report shall be delivered to the parent or guardian of each student either electronically or by mail.

The bill inserts into code these additional transparency requirements. The additional transparency brought with SB271 is critical . Any time a government or a government entity is required to report back to the people on the work they do, it’s a good thing. Any time it is easier for a parent to obtain information related to their child’s growth and learning, it a great thing.

One size does not fit all

The formulas set up in School Grading are based upon comparing each student to himself or herself over time – not by comparing student to student. Each school will receive a letter grade based on the proficiency and learning gains of students at every point on the spectrum – from the most in need to the most gifted.
No longer will assessment focus on reaching a certain level of proficiency. With this system, student improvement is noted, tracked, and rewarded. ’Proficient’ should not mean the end of progress. Likewise, students who are falling behind or who are not proficient will be compared to themselves, and students who have been scored similarly in the past. Marked progress will lend to a higher grade level for the schools who work to help their lowest performing students. The measure for each individual student making sufficient growth will be based on that student’s academic performance in relation to their expected growth. Every student will be compared to their own expected growth rather than by some universalized growth standard. One size does not fit all.

Ultimately, the School Grading System will go forward with or without the positive changes that SB271 sets in place.
In a State School Board meeting last week, President Niederhauser addressed what would happen to the grading system if SB271 is not adopted into law:
… Because UCAS was never formally put into law, if the governor vetoed SB271, the state could end up with a grading system based on the original 2011 law. That original law would make it tougher for schools to achieve high grades than either UCAS or SB271.

If I’m advising the governor at this point, I’m going to say, ‘If you veto the bill, you’ve got a worse situation.” [SL Tribune]
State Superintendent Martell Menlove also supports SB271 as adopted. In a statement read on the House floor during debate, he said,
“Although the State Board of Education has not taken a formal position, I support Senate Bill 271 Third Substitute, and have notified the State Board of my position. I believe Senate Bill 271 Third Substitute allows us to move forward with a school grading system that meets the intent of the Utah Legislature and places the State Board of Education in a position to assure that the grading system is fair and accurately reflects the vision and mission of the State Board.”

An outreach of support

In addition to support from local leaders, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush sent us a letter in support of the current legislation.
Governor Bush wrote:

“The [2011] law, sponsored by Senator Niederhauser, set up strong standards and benchmarks for a reliable accountability system. The amendment currently being considered builds on the existing law and brings technical changes that will strengthen it and finalize the finishing touches.”
By signing SB271, Governor Herbert will allow the State Board of Education to properly define curriculum standards, assessments, and the model used to determine expected student growth from year to year. SB271 promotes transparency in education, including parents in their child’s education, and advocating for the progress of individual students.


From → 2013 Interim

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