Utah’s School Ratings Unclear, Confuse Parents

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Utah has released school grades this week amid criticism that the process changes each year, leaving educators and parents wondering what the school ratings actually mean.

Of the 737 elementary and middle schools in the state, 13% obtained an A, 45% gained a B, 31% earned a C, 8% received a D, leaving 2% with an F.

Among the state’s 129 high schools, 5%, or six high schools, saw a letter grade of A, 45% earned a B, 30% received a C, 11% gained a D, and 9% got an F.

The grades this year were calculated using new metrics from the SAGE test, although overall the grade distribution was the same as it was last year.  In other words, state education officials lowered acceptable percentages this year by as much as 21% in order to get about the same number of schools in each grade as last year.

In order to earn an A, schools must score between 64-100%, 51-6% for a B, 39-5% for a C, 30-4% for a D, and 29% or less for an F.  Grades are measured through overall academic growth and proficiency in math, English and science.  High school grades also take into account graduation rates and ACT scores.

This is the first year that the SAGE exam was used to determine school grades, and it was also the first year the test was administered in schools.  In order to account for that, education officials within the state adjusted the grading distribution to reflect the 2013 results, the last year the annual criterion-reference test was administered.

Educators were happy with at least one change to the grading process this year.  Historically, schools that did not show at least 95% of their students taking year-end assessments automatically received a letter grade of F.  This year, those same schools will simply drop a letter grade.

As of this year, alternative schools are exempt from school grading, and new schools are allowed to apply for temporary exemption.  Children whose parents had opted them out of taking the SAGE exam this year are not included toward the school grade.

Changes were made to the school grading system each year since the first set was released in 2011 due to criticism by parents, teachers and state lawmakers.

“School grading has been different every single year,” said Judy Park, associate superintendent of the Utah State Office of Education. “I would imagine that this legislative session, we’ll see some more changes.”

Park continued to say that somewhere around 17 schools may be affected by miscalculations in the inclusion of mentally impaired students in the grading calculation.  Those students take the Utah alternative assessment in place of the SAGE exam, yet some were counted as not having taken the test.  Doing so could have mistakenly caused some schools to drop below the 95% level, placing those schools in a lower letter grade than they deserved.

The governor’s PACE report card results were also released earlier this week, offering parents and educators a look into progress within the state toward academic proficiency goals for 2020.