Nearly 3 percent of Utah's 802 public schools are failing, the Education Department said Monday.

That means students in 22 Utah schools where test scores fell short of state standards can choose to go to better schools in their districts this fall.

Nationally, pupils in failing schools will have the choice of another school for the first time as a result of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which President Bush signed in January.

The law requires that students in schools where scores don't meet state academic standards for two consecutive years be allowed to transfer to another public school, with most transportation costs paid.

Utah fared better than the national average. Nationally, 8,652 schools have failed to meet learning standards, which amounts to 9 percent of U.S. public schools. The numbers were higher than the Education Department expected. In April, Congress was told 3,000 to 5,000 schools would be declared failing.

"Parents will now have new options to give their child a quality education," Education Secretary Rod Paige said.

The announcement did not come as a surprise to officials at the Utah State Office of Education.

Sandra Johnson, Title 1 specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, said the state has been tracking struggling schools for some time.

Of the 22 Utah schools named for improvement, 16 are in their first year of not meeting state standards, five are in their second year and one is in its third year. The schools are in Alpine, Cache, Carbon, Jordan, Ogden, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sevier, Tooele, Uintah and Washington school districts. A list of specific schools was not available Tuesday morning.

Failing schools will be notifying parents of the school's status and offering them the option of transferring their children to another, non-failing school within the district that has room for more students.

Utah already has an open enrollment policy, Johnson said. But the new federal law requires school districts to help pay for transportation costs for students who choose to transfer from a failing school this fall, which could be a burden on some districts' budgets.

"It could be very challenging," she said.

The law also requires that pupils in grades three through eight be tested every year in reading and math. Though few states have set up the new testing programs, they have had to test students once each in elementary, middle and high school.

It was those test scores, reported to the Education Department this spring, that determine which students can go to different schools.

The United States has about 91,000 public elementary and secondary schools.

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Dan Langan, spokesman for the Education Department, said last week's decision by the Supreme Court to allow school vouchers does not affect the school-choice program authorized by the Education Act.

"It's public- to public-school choice," Langan said.

Each state defines progress differently, and states' numbers come from different school years, starting in 1999-2000.


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