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Utah lawmakers might purge letter grades from school report cards

House committee approved bill to eliminate requirement for giving grades to public schools

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A student walks into Payson High School.

Payson High School in Payson is pictured on Feb. 1, 2021.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

Utah lawmakers moved a step closer Monday to eliminating a requirement for the state school board to assign letter grades to public schools as part of the state accountability report.

The House Education Committee voted unanimously to approve HB308, which would do away with the requirement that was criticized as ineffective and paints an incomplete picture of what occurs in Utah schools. The bill moves to the House for further consideration.

Rep. Douglas Welton, R-Payson, who is a licensed educator, teaches at Salem Hills High School in Salem, which has an “A” letter grade on the state report card.

“They’re fantastic in all sorts of ways. It doesn’t mean that they’re perfect,” he said.

The school has relatively few English language learners, so it “actually doesn’t weigh in” to its overall grade, which takes into account the progress of English language learners.

But Payson High School, also in Welton’s legislative district, has “a large number of second language learners and they’re kind of struggling in that area and that takes them from maybe a ‘B’ school to a ‘C’ school,” he said.

If letter grades were removed from the state report card, other indicators would remain such as achievement, growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students, college and post-secondary education readiness and progress of English language learners, he said.

The state school board has voted to support the legislation. The Utah School Boards Association and the Utah Education Association also backs the bill.

“We appreciate the removing of ineffective and really unnecessary regulation because that sends such a positive message of trust to our professional educators and locally elected school boards and we support the removal of the school grades,” said Sara Jones, UEA director of government relations.

Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, said there is a “wide variation” of school grades in Granite School District, where she taught school until her retirement and a portion of which is in her legislative district.

“It all comes down to socioeconomics and English language learners that are working hard but don’t have the same head start as other school,” she said.

Once while walking her legislative district she met a constituent new to the area who had concerns that the neighborhood elementary school had a “C” grade on the state report card.

“I said ‘I know that school. I know many of the teachers and they’re extraordinary and your kids will get a great education.’ But they almost left and went to another school because of that grade and their kids could walk to school. So it’s going to make a huge positive difference,” Moss said.

Previous attempts to remove letter grades from the state report card have had broad support in the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.