SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature’s House Education Committee unanimously endorsed HB175 on Wednesday, the latest attempt by Rep. Marie Poulson to eliminate letter grades from the state report card.
Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, has sponsored similar legislation the past three years. Last year, a similar measure overwhelmingly passed in the House but was not considered in the Senate.
In January, the State Board of Education posted its annual accountability report without grades after administration irregularities with RISE testing last spring, pending a determination about letter grades during the 2020 legislative session.
Poulson said she seeks to purge from state law language that requires letter grades and let the dashboard stand as the state’s accountability report.
The dashboard reports schools’ results on statewide tests, student growth, progress of English learners and allows schools to report school-level factors that influence performance such as consistent school attendance.
Two years ago, when the State School Board moved to the dashboard model, “it was like a breath of fresh air in an inversion for educators,” she said.
No one spoke against the bill, which got enthusiastic support from the Utah PTA, the Utah Education Association and Gov. Gary Herbert’s education adviser Tami Pyfer.
“The governor has not been supportive of a single letter grade” and prefers the dashboard model, Pyfer said.
Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association and also representing the Utah School Boards Association, urged the committee to approve HB175.
“If you were to ask us what single policy issue that we wish would be different, this would be the issue. This would be the issue simply because the accountability that was hoped for, frankly, has not occurred,” he said.
Meanwhile, the online dashboard, which provides a deeper look at Utah’s public schools, “has been excitedly received by school districts all across the state,” Shoemaker said.
Poulson said statewide testing only captures about 20% of the subjects taught in high schools or middle schools so it is unfair to saddle a school with a grade when the school may have other excellent programs otherwise.
Eliminating letter grades “would be the best nonmonetary way to retain and attract our good teachers,” she said.
This year’s accountability report included a disclaimer and video discussing challenges encountered during RISE testing.
RISE is an acronym for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment. RISE assessments were to be given annually to students in grades three through eight. After statewide interruptions in testing, the State School Board ended its contract with the testing vendor.
The board’s website includes this explanation of the accountability report: “Just as students’ report cards provide a snapshot of their school performance, the Utah School Report Cards show how public schools across Utah are serving students in a variety of areas. The dashboard available here displays key information about schools. Users can click through each page to learn more.”