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State School Board OKs 5 public schools’ exit from ‘turnaround’

Paradigm High School to remain in turnaround program for 2020-21 school year

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SALT LAKE CITY — Five Utah public schools will exit from school turnaround status after a vote of the Utah State Board of Education on Thursday.

The schools include Whitehorse High School in the San Juan School District, Granite School District’s Kennedy Junior High, and three public charter schools — Dixie Montessori Academy, Guadalupe School and Utah Virtual Academy, which is an online school.

Recently, the Utah Legislature took steps allowing Utah Virtual Academy to lift its enrollment cap amid a “significant surge” in applications that outstripped available slots as parents have sought alternatives to classroom instruction in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utah Virtual Academy was allowed to increase its enrollment from to 3,550, an increase of 1,500 students. The school’s board chairman said lessons learned from school turnaround will help it serve an influx of students.

The board voted to accept the recommendations of the school turnaround state review panel, which also included that Paradigm High School, a public charter school, will remain in turnaround status for the 2020-21 school year.

Paradigm school leaders pushed back against the recommendation arguing that the school had made more progress than other schools to be released from turnaround status.

Schools identified for turnaround status are among the lowest 3% performing schools in the state. Such schools are provided additional resources with the expectation they improve academic achievement within three years or face other actions deemed appropriate by the State School Board.

Paradigm School director Fernando Seminario said once media outlets report the school was not allowed to exit turnaround status, “that’s very damaging to our culture, to our reputation. And you know, we don’t feel that it actually tells the whole story,” he said.

Not exiting turnaround would also hurt school morale, he said.

Seminario said the school was flagged for turnaround because it had a 65% opt-out rate for state testing, “which is really high for the whole state. We’ve worked hard to address that. We’ve shown improvement and growth in all the areas.”

According to documents prepared by the review panel for the board, the school’s English language arts scores showed consistent growth but “math and science scores do not show a consistent growth trajectory.”

Moreover, “evidence suggests that Paradigm is in the early stages of implementation of the school improvement plan with regards to Utah CORE standards. Paradigm suggested a reluctance to use curriculum-based, criterion-referenced data for systemic decision making,” the documents state.

Last spring’s recess of in-school instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the administration of statewide assessments. Test results are a key factor in assessing schools’ academic performance.

In April, the State School Board waived its required exit criteria and directed that a state panel review each school’s presentation of alternative data to the school accountability system and make a recommendation of whether they had demonstrated sufficient improvement to exit school turnaround.

The panel’s recommendations were based on three factors:

  • Did the school achieve above the lowest 3% threshold using the 2018-19 school accountability data/measures?
  • Can the school provide evidence of substantial progress and growth in addition to the data in the accountability system?
  • Does the school have qualitative and/or quantitative data from the implementation of its school turnaround plan that also demonstrates substantial improvement?

Darin Nielsen, assistant state superintendent of student learning and a review panel member, said the group carefully weighed whether to recommend the schools for turnaround exit.

In Paradigm High School’s case “we felt that an additional year of supports that come with the turnaround classification would be beneficial for them and would enhance our confidence in their ability to continue making that progress,” Nielsen said.