From: Wayne Niederhauser
To: Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans,
Subject: Utah School Grading | September 3rd
Date: Wed Aug 28 16:14:55 MDT 2013
Body:
Dear Legislators,   Utah School Grading is set to launch on September 3rd.  On that day, each school will receive a letter grade based on student academic progress, so parents and community leaders can see how schools are performing in key areas.   This policy was patterned after the Florida Model which has helped propel significant student achievement gains there, and in several other sister-states.  It was crafted through multi-year discussions and codifies major compromises from all sides.  The legislature set up the mandate, framework and transparency but the grades are based on the standards set by the elected members of the State Board of Education.   Elementary schools and junior high schools will receive a letter grade based on the answer to the following questions:        1) Are students performing at grade level? and        2) Are students achieving enough academic growth?   The first question is the traditional yardstick for measuring school performance.  The second question is being added to incent attention to each student, even those that are far below (or far above) grade level.  For a school to get credit, students need to achieve at least a year's worth of learning in the school year; less than that means the student has fallen further behind.   High schools' grades will factor in an additional measurement: How well are students prepared for college (and life) after high school?  We'll measure this by graduation rates and ACT scores.   We believe a straightforward letter grade, based on transparent criteria, with good supporting information is an improvement on performance ranking systems used in the past that were confusing and cumbersome for the average parent or community leader.   A school's letter grade is not a final judgment.  It's an introduction and an invitation to engage.  It won't tell you everything ­ just as a student's letter grade may not reflect the totality of his or her experience in the classroom.  It does, however, shine a necessary bright light in key areas.   Some of the grades this year may surprise you.  If that happens, the question to ask is, "Why did this school receive this grade?"  As you dig deeper, the answers will be illuminating.   Utah's grading system will shine a light on things that sometimes get swept under the rug. Utah's Achievement Gap is one example. Your favorite school may have fantastic, high-profile programs for which they've received public accolades.  However, if Hispanic students at that institution are dropping out at an abysmal rate, it hasn't earned an A, and will not until that situation improves.   These grades should invite discussion, education, intervention, and improvement.   You should expect resistance from some who are uncomfortable with transparency or opposed to reform.  While we're not interested in humoring fear tactics from those who want to delay, diffuse and destroy school grading, we ARE interested in constructive feedback.  This is Utah's first round of School Grading, and we are open to actionable proposals from those in the trenches that would make our system even stronger. Keep us informed. As we discover ways to make the new system more robust we'll work with school board members and potentially run a bill in the 2014 Session.    School Grading is a transparent and easy-to-understand accountability system that focuses on outcomes instead of inputs.   We believe such a system is necessary for teachers and administrators to focus their efforts, for parents to understand what¹s happening at their children's schools, and for board members and lawmakers to evaluate policy changes and reallocate resources effectively.    When a neighborhood school's grade is less than stellar we hope it will propel all of us to help the school improve.    In all of our work to build good policy for Utah, improving the education system may be the most important thing we do.  This new system offers accountability and clarity to guide us in the effort.   You can find more information at www.utahschoolgrading.com.   Thank you for your good work.     Wayne Niederhauser President of the Utah Senate     Becky Lockhart Speaker of the House of Representatives