20 Facts about the School Grading Program in Utah Based on SB271 S3 as Passed in the 2013 Session

Compiled by Dr. Patti Harrington for USBA/USSA/UASBO August 31, 2013
1. SB271 (3rd Substitute) was originally written by Parents for Choice (PCE), the same group that advocated for vouchers in 2007, seeking to use public taxpayer dollars to support for-profit schools. The bill was sponsored by Senator Stuart Adams but President Wayne Niederhauser developed the bill with PCE and asked Senator Adams to carry the bill. SB271 S3 was cosponsored in the House by Representative Greg Hughes. No public education representatives were included in its development. 2. SB271 S3 passed on the final day of the 2013 Legislative Session by a narrow margin (38-36 in the House and 16-10 in the Senate). 3. This legislation adds yet another school accountability system on top of the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System (UCAS) that was created in response to 2011 legislation and for use in federal accountability and is also in addition to the required annual school improvement plans developed at the local level by school community councils. 4. The primary political purposes of the bill are touted by Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. At the time of Florida’s school grading implementation, Utah outperformed Florida in almost every indicator. Utah still outperforms Florida in many indicators. There is no research that connects school grading with school improvement; it remains much more of a political ideology than a research-based practice. 5. UCAS requires measuring both student proficiency and individual growth scores by all students; SB271S3 includes the proficiency and growth for students, but due to the Student Growth Percentile (see #20 below) it may fail to acknowledge significant improvement made by students who have the greatest struggles in learning. 6. The weighting of factors in SB271 S3 make it highly unlikely that any high school can change the initial grade they receive. The components included in the high school SB271S3 are the same high school components in UCAS (proficiency, growth, graduation rate). The original stakeholder group that worked with UCAS looked at multiple other measures for college and career readiness, but determined that the graduation rate was the most accurate and reliable measure. It is essential that we improve the accuracy and quality of data collection of other high school elements so we can include them in future accountability systems. The concern with high school is not the measures that are used, but the weighting of those measures, and the recognition that we currently do not collect accurate and varied data to better represent all that is important in high schools. 7. The forced stratification of grades around a mid-point in SB271S3 inhibits the ability of a school to demonstrate improvement. 8. Many public education stakeholders actively opposed SB271 S3 and encouraged Governor Herbert to veto it. The bill was not vetoed in exchange for making some amendments to the bill

in a Special Session of the Legislature; President Niederhauser refused to support the call for a Special Session. 9. The first SB271 S3 grades are set to be released on September 3, 2013. 10. The School Grading Program will assign failing grades based on participation in end of year tests regardless of unique circumstances at the school level. 11. The weighting of proficiency and growth in the School Grading Program may diminish the positive effects of the growth of some students, who may still be sub-proficient but who have nonetheless made tremendous learning gains. 12. The School Grading Program treats all schools the same; schools that serve students with disabilities, students in mental health settings, and students in alternative schools will all be graded with the same one-size-fits-all metric. It is likely that schools serving special populations will receive failing grades. 13. The School Grading Program appears to be roughly aligned with economic factors in a community, giving higher grades to schools located in wealthy areas and lower grades to schools located in areas of high poverty. 14. The School Grading Program will label schools in inaccurate and simplistic ways; not accounting for the myriad of school factors that should be included in a sensible accountability system that reflects complexity and growth aspects of schools and students. 15. There is no current plan from the Legislature to help schools who receive poor grades; in fact, the Utah Legislature significantly decreased funding for at-risk and accelerated students the past few years. 16. The per-pupil legislative allocation in Utah for FY14 is $2,899, up $57 from FY13. Utah continues to be ranked 51st in the nation in public education per pupil spending. Additional funding would help to establish stronger tutoring programs (through software and personnel), and provide for more time for teachers and counselors to work individually with students to help them succeed. 17. State enrollment reports indicate that about ninety-two percent (92%) of parents who choose to send their students to public schools, send them to Utah’s public traditional schools, including their online and special purpose options. Parents in Utah recognize the worth and needs of their neighborhood schools and wish to maintain local control through their locally-elected school boards. Parents, not the state, know best when it comes to understanding the context, challenges, and successes of their schools. 18. A recent poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup Poll measured the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Seventy-seven (77%) of America’s parents gave the school their oldest child attended a grade of A or B. These are the highest grades parents have assigned to their oldest child’s school since the poll began 44 years ago. Twenty years ago the number was 64 percent (64%). Locally-elected school board members listen carefully to their parents and work to continue to improve their local schools and the achievement of every child.

19. Parents in Utah who serve on local boards of education support strong school accountability for our schools. They advocate for accountability systems which:  Honor growth by concentrating attention on helping every child grow in their academic achievement and a system which values and recognizes that growth.  Make clear to schools what is needed in order for them to improve so that even small increments of improvement can be recognized, reinforced and rewarded.  Are devoid of limitations which arise from reliance upon a bell-shaped curve.  Use a system which accurately reflects the performance and growth of the school and has a common perception as to the meaning; and  Provide assistance to schools which have created an improvement plan, and the resources to implement that plan. 20. Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) School Grading is based on student proficiency and growth (and graduation rate for high schools). Growth is based on the Student Growth Percentile (SGP). In the past, growth was determined by comparing students regardless of their achievement level. Everyone was expected to grow the same. The great value of SGPs is that growth is a measurement based on comparing students from past performance to present performance at the same achievement level. The SGP is calculated by comparing each student with all other students who received the same scale score on the same test ( his/her academic peer), in the previous year and then comparing the scale score of these students the next year to determine their SGP. So all students with a scale score of 150 (not proficient) the previous year, will receive an SGP of 1 – 99. Thus, every student, regardless of achievement level, has the possibility of a low or high SGP based on their growth from previous years to the current year. Students with low achievement can demonstrate high or low growth. Students with high achievement can demonstrate low and high growth. Then how does SB271 S3 fail to acknowledge significant improvement made by students who have the greatest struggles in learning? By requiring a pass/fail bar (this year set at the 40th percentile), SB271 S3 prevents the SGP from reaching its full potential of awarding points for all students as it generates fewer points for low growth and higher points for high growth. This is an attempt to try to force SGPs to be more similar to the value added growth model that the stakeholders rejected in 2012. That stakeholder group included President Niederhauser, who now is fully rejecting the work of the original stakeholder group on which, he, himself, served.

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