Praising lawmakers for budget efforts and aiming to raise expectations for schools, Gov. Mike Leavitt on Tuesday signed a bill that lays the groundwork for notched-up school accountability.

The signing came at the State Board of Education's monthly meeting."I think you are a vital, in fact I would say perhaps a keystone in making what I'm about to sign come about," Leavitt told the board.

"Our commitment is not just to invest more. Our commitment is to expect more," he said. "I believe the signing of this bill . . . represents a turning point where we will begin to create formally a new culture that values student achievement instead of the process of measuring time."

The governor also made clear accountability must extend beyond the classroom teacher to the student, parent and even voter.

Leavitt signed HB177, which was sponsored by Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, and Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. The pair also led a task force of lawmakers, school board representatives and Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, which met for seven months to hammer out the bill. The task force also will meet the rest of the year to create a follow-up bill.

HB177 phases in a series of tests, including an upcoming writing test for sixth- and ninth-graders. The tests will be publicly reported.

The State Board of Education also is working to establish benchmarks for student achievement. The task force will work to develop intervention strategies to help struggling schools succeed. Discussion also might include ways to reward high-achieving schools. The tests will be phased in over the next five years.

"We feel we're moving in a good direction in accountability," said Jill Kennedy, chairwoman of the State Board of Education.