Utah’s School Grading System to See Changes


A new annual student assessment in Utah will see major changes to the state's school grading system.

SAGE, the new annual assessment, discovered that most students in the state are performing below a new standard of proficiency which focuses on students being more college and career-ready. The new discovery is causing state education officials to focus on changes in how grades are calculated to accommodate the change in assessment, hoping for a similar distribution as seen in last year's grades, said Judy Park, associate superintendent of the Utah State Office of Education.

"That doesn't mean the same schools will get the same grade. It just means the same percentage of schools will receive each grade," Park said during an Education Interim Committee meeting Wednesday. "We're currently still trying to figure out those adjustments that will need to be made to allow for that distribution."

Last year, 11% of schools earned an "A," 45% a "B," 30% a "C," 10% a "D," and 4% held the grade of "F."

December 15 is the deadline for the public release of grades this year. State officials remain "hopeful" that the grades for all schools will be ready by then.

Because this year is looked upon as a baseline for the SAGE grades, next year is expected to see improved scores as teachers and students adjust to the test and the new standard. A one-time adjustment to the school grading system has been approved by the Legislature as the state transitions from the state's former year-end assessment (CRT) to SAGE.

It is still unclear if another adjustment will be approved to account for the rise in scores expected next year.

"The entire system was developed based on CRTs, so it would be great if they would look at the entire system now that we have a completely different assessment system," Park said.

Many educators have raised concerns about the new system, including not wanting special education students to be allowed in their classrooms due to the reflection it could have on school grades.

Representative Rich Cunningham would like to see changes made so that students with disabilities are taken into account for the final score.

Another concern is the linking of compensation to student performance. Many teachers are worried that one-third of their pay will be influenced by students who show poor performance.

According to Brad Smith, the new superintendent of public instruction for the state, compensation will become linked to student performance in the 2016-2017 school year, although it is meant to cover incremental increases over time, not compensation as a whole.

"I would suggest the actual intended outcome of an assessment is to help teachers see ways to meet the needs of individual kids," he said. "So we have to be very careful about the about the kinds of causation and other statistical inferences we're drawing from the results because the intended outcome is to help teachers, not in any sense to penalize them."

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