SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers agreed on new changes to Utah's school grading system that they hope will produce more manageable goals for improvement in student achievement.
Earlier this week, the Utah House of Representatives passed a bill, SB149, that would have changed the point structure every year in determining school grades. Percentage brackets for each grade would increase by 2 percent each year, which was intended to drive improvement.
But the bill was amended in the House Education Committee on Thursday, eliminating the yearly 2 percent increase. Instead, the percentages required to earn an A, B, C, D or F will remain unchanged until 65 percent of schools receive an A or a B. Then each percentage bracket will go up by 5 percent.
"What this does is allows a better representation longitudinally as we hold that scale constant, at least for a few years," said Rich Nye, associate superintendent of data, assessment and accountability at the Utah State Office of Education.
Each school's grade is based on a score that accounts for student achievement and academic growth as measured by SAGE, Utah's standardized exam. In addition, high schools are graded on their graduation rates and the percentage of students who meet all four benchmarks for college readiness on the ACT.
This year, elementary and middle schools whose score falls between 64 percent and 100 percent would get an A; 51 percent and 63 percent for a B; 39 percent and 50 percent for a C; 30 percent and 38 percent for a D; and 29 percent or less for an F. High schools will follow a similar distribution.
Those brackets will increase by 5 percent as necessary until the minimum percentage to get an A reaches a ceiling of 90 percent.
Last year, about 64 percent of elementary and middle schools got either an A or a B, just 1 percent short of what the new threshold would be to raise the distribution brackets.
Part of the controversy surrounding Utah's school grading system is the fact that it has changed every year since it's implementation. Most of the changes come in light of Utah's transition to the SAGE exam from its previous statewide test.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, sponsored the original legislation creating the school grading system in 2011. He said now that SAGE is in its third year, schools should be able to depend on better consistency in the grading system. SB149 provides that consistency and a way for the system to adjust automatically when necessary.
"Here, now, I think we've landed on something where we don't have to come back every year, and it will adjust up at a reasonable level as progress is made," Niederhauser said.
The bill now awaits a final vote in the House, as well as concurrence from the Senate on the new changes.