Politics & Legislation

Issue: Grading Schools

‘Yes’ to school accountability, ‘no’ to flawed models – Oct. 1, 2013

On Sept. 30, the State issued its Utah School Accountability System (UCAS) report for all schools in Utah (view the report here). This follows a single letter grade report for schools issued earlier in the month, as required by new legislation.

The UEA, on behalf of teachers, has taken the position that both UCAS, which was developed in response to a previous school grading law, and the current single-grade reporting system are both seriously flawed in the way they measure and report what’s happening in our schools. This position is shared by statewide associations representing school board members, superintendents, principals and parents…more

School grades do not reflect reality – August 26, 2013

(Updated Sept. 3) The State of Utah released individual school letter grades on Sept. 3 that most in the education community believe are based on faulty assumptions and do not properly present what’s happening in the state’s public schools.

“Our teachers, students and parents deserve a school accountability system that truly reflects all the good things going on in our schools and identifies areas where they can improve,” said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “If legislators were trying to help the public better understand the quality and performance of our public schools, they clearly missed the mark with this legislation”...more


The 2013 Legislature passed SB271 (3rd Sub.): School Grading Amendments by a narrow margin (38-36 in the House and 16-10 in the Senate). This legislation adds a second accountability grading system to that already being implemented under legislation passed in 2011. Both school grading bills were drafted with considerable input from private-school voucher advocates Parents for Choice in Education.

The 2011 school grading legislation required measuring both student proficiency and growth in assigning schools a letter grade, but also allowed the USBE flexibility to develop a more comprehensive model. The result was the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System (UCAS) that was implemented in 2012 and is used for federal NCLB reporting as well as school performance reporting.

Many public education stakeholders, including the UEA, PTA, Utah School Boards Association and Utah Superintendents Association, opposed SB271 and urged Governor Herbert to veto it. These groups continue to oppose a single grade for schools.

The first school grades calculated under the new law were publicly released Sept. 3, 2013. The 2013 UCAS report was released Sept. 30, 2013.

UEA’s Position

Both UCAS and the current single-grade reporting system are fatally flawed in the way they measure and report what’s happening in our schools. This position is shared by statewide associations representing school board members, superintendents, principals and parents.

  • The school grading law was written by politicians and those with a political agenda. School policy is better determined by educators and parents rather than politicians.
  • School quality and performance are far too complex and important to reduce to a single grade.
  • We support and advocate for a comprehensive school accountability system.
  • Flaws in the new grading system lead to misidentifying many great schools with poor grades.
  • The hardworking teachers, administrators and students in our schools will be disheartened, discouraged and demeaned when their schools are misidentified with poor grades.
  • A comprehensive school accountability model should be collaboratively developed by education experts and stakeholders. The new grading model ignores collaborative work done over the past two years and instead implements a system devoid of input by key stakeholders.
  • The flawed grading model does nothing to enhance understanding of a school’s performance or quality.
  • The flawed model increases costs by duplicating an accountability system that already exists.
  • The economic and business impact of “grading schools” is a concern. Misidentifying schools in a negative light will negatively impact property values and impede the ability to attract business.
  • A comprehensive school accountability system should:
    • Honor growth by concentrating attention on helping every child grow in their academic achievement and values and recognizes that growth;
    • Make clear to schools what is needed to improve in ways that even small increments of improvement can be recognized, reinforced and rewarded;
    • Be devoid of limitations that arise from reliance upon a bell-shaped curve;
    • Accurately reflect the performance and growth of the school and have a common perception as to the meaning; and
    • Provide assistance to schools that have created an improvement plan and provide the resources to implement that plan.

Recent News

  • Utah critics: Grading system flawed, schools misrepresented 09/04/2013
    (Ogden Standard-Examiner) School Grading Program critics, including members of the Utah School Board Association, have said the new system is flawed for a number of reasons: It doesn’t give credit for growth achieved by students still at below-proficiency levels, and it assigns failing grades based on participation in end-of-year tests regardless of circumstances at the school level.
  • Grades for Utah schools bring strong reaction from parents and educators 09/04/2013
    (Deseret News) Utah's controversial school grades were released Tuesday, drawing strong reaction from parents, educators and lawmakers seeking explanation for the results of this first-of-its kind report.
  • Will Utah’s school grading system erode support for public schools? 09/04/2013
    (Salt Lake Tribune) Opponents of letter grades for public schools fear privatization; supporters hail new transparency.
  • USOE Releases First School Grades 09/03/2013
    (USOE Press Release) Fifty-six percent of Utah public schools earned either an A or a B in the first-ever release of school grades in compliance with a new law enacted by the Utah Legislature in 2011, the Utah State Office of Education reported today.
  • Mixed grades for Wasatch Front high schools 09/03/2013
    (Salt Lake Tribune) School grades » A first-ever grading of Utah’s traditional and charter public schools released Tuesday.
  • Report cards released for Utah schools; 56 percent earn either A or B grades 09/03/2013
    (Deseret News) Utah schools received their report cards Tuesday morning with the release of new school grades based on proficiency in language arts, mathematics and science, and the growth students demonstrated year over year on end-of-level testing.
  • Lawmakers consider changes to State School Board elections 08/29/2013
    (Deseret News) A discussion by lawmakers Tuesday suggests there's a consensus that the governing model of Utah public education needs to be changed, but opinions remain divided on what should take its place.
  • Howard Stephenson: Education Accountability Principles, or Show. Me. THE MONEY? 08/29/2013
    (Utah Policy Daily) Rather than beginning a meaningful conversation with parents, teachers, students and other community stakeholders about the real state of public education, the UEA, School Boards Association, State PTA and other members of UPEC opposed school grading.
  • Grades for Utah schools expected to stir controversy 08/27/2013
    (Deseret News) Utah's public schools will receive their first report cards next week under a new school grading law and both lawmakers and educators are bracing for the anticipated backlash.
  • School grades do not reflect reality 08/26/2013
    Legislatively mandated school grades miss the mark in school accountability, according to the UEA
  • Senate OKs new school grading system 03/12/2013
    (Deseret News) Senators on Monday passed SB271, which would create a new system for holding schools accountable for students' education and tracking school performance. Under the new system, which would operate in addition to and separate from UCAS, schools would be given a letter grade based on high school graduation rates, student proficiency growth, and college and career readiness.
  • Legislature passes bill to grade Utah schools 03/10/2011
    (Salt Lake Tribune) “If we want to grade like Florida then let’s amend this bill and be like Florida, lower class sizes and raise teachers’ salaries,” said Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan. “What we need to do is not penalize the teachers but help the teachers.”
  • School grading bill on its way to Utah governor 03/10/2011
    (Deseret News) Opponents called it demoralizing for struggling schools and their teachers, while supporters claimed the publicized grades will cause communities to rally around poor-performing schools to improve them.
  • Editorial: F on education...Legislators undermining schools 02/21/2011
    (Salt Lake Tribune Editorial) The Utah Legislature has a history of starving public schools and then criticizing them for failures.