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SALT LAKE CITY — Want to know how your child's neighborhood or charter school is faring? There's a new, redesigned state report card for that.
The Utah State Board of Education on Thursday released its latest online accountability report for public schools. The new system received high marks from officials at several school districts as well as the state's largest teachers union.
“It is my hope that parents will take the opportunity this year to look more deeply into their child’s school performance,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said in a statement.
“The comprehensive data that will now be publicly available offers a clearer picture of school progress and achievement in core subjects and advanced coursework.”
Unlike previous state school report cards, this year's version has no letter grades. That practice has been temporarily suspended as the board implements new statewide testing and a revised school accountability system approved by the Utah Legislature in 2017.
That system includes new indicators such as how well high schools prepare students for college or other postsecondary education; progress of English language learners; and academic growth of a school’s lowest-performing students.
Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said the new accountability report cards "are a vast improvement over previous accountability reports that focused on punitive and short-sighted single A-F letter grades."
The new report cards "represent a step in the right direction for parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers who really want to understand what’s happening in our schools. Our hope is the new data can identify where additional resources are needed to help our students succeed," said Matthews, leader of the state's largest teachers union.
Matthews, in a statement, said “UEA supports elimination of the letter-grade accountability model in favor of a dashboard model that provides parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers with more comprehensive data to inform decisions.”
Instead of letter grades, school performance is reported on a scale that ranges from exemplary, commendable, typical, developing and critical needs.
According to a board press release, the indicator ratings capture academic proficiency and growth in core subjects, progress on English language proficiency, graduation rates, performance on the ACT college entrance exam and success in Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment courses as well as students who complete career and technical education via Career Pathways.
The report card also includes each school's testing participation rate and the percentage of students who consistently attend the school. The latter counts only students who remain in a single school for at least 160 of the 180-day school year and are in school attendance at least 90 percent of the time.
Jer Bates, communication director for the Ogden School District, said the former report cards, which issued letter grades, "were very simple and that simplicity was their appeal."
"However, the new school accountability report card system provides a much more clear picture of a school’s performance. This tool allows the public to be better informed of specific areas of strength or weakness, while also helping to identify patterns and trends throughout the state and within individual school districts."
For example, the last time the state report card included letter grades, Ben Lomond High School received an F.
"With the new report card, we can see more specific areas of need as well as areas worthy of celebration," Bates said.
Eighty-eight percent of Ben Lomond students enrolled in coursework that helps prepare them for postsecondary training and education, which was 27 percent above the state average, he said.
Within the category of postsecondary readiness, just under 35 percent of Ben Lomond students scored 18 or higher on the ACT.
"This is slightly below the state average of 39 percent and clearly an area to focus on for improvement," Bates said.
Andrew Frink, director of technology and assessment for the Park City School District, took a different view.
"This year in particular this report is of less use to us in driving any instructional decisions, as the data that drives most of the indicators (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence or SAGE) is now over 6 months old. Where appropriate we've already looked at the SAGE data," Frink said.
Another consideration is that significant numbers of parents opted their children out of SAGE testing, particularly in Park City's secondary schools, he said.
"These high rates make it very difficult for us to use the SAGE results to tell an accurate story of how our students as a group are performing. The group that did take the test is no longer truly representative of our full student body," Frink said.
Meanwhile, Canyons School District spokeswoman Kirsten Stewart said the new report card indicates Canyons schools are "demonstrating solid achievement, which is a testament to the hard work of our teachers and students. The new accountability reports are heavily based on end-of-year test scores, including SAGE and the ACT college-entrance exam, and our students’ above-average performance on those tests is reflected in the new reports."
Canyons District remains focused on the academic challenges of English language learners, she said.
"It’s definitely a priority for the district. We have extra supports in place now that have yielded academic gains, and we’re actively exploring other proven strategies. This week, in fact, two of our high school principals are traveling to Colorado to learn about a Newcomer Program at South Denver High School where 60 percent of the students are English learners," Stewart said.
Ben Horsley, spokesman for Granite School District, said the new report is much more comprehensive and takes into consideration at-risk students and the importance of providing quality instruction to meet individual needs.
"Proficiency has only been one part of the school grading story so we are grateful that this provides a much more accurate picture of school achievement. We are very hopeful that the Legislature will see the benefit of informing parents regarding school quality across a full spectrum of critical variables and make these changes permanent," he said.
Jason Stanger, principal of InTech Collegiate High School, said the early college charter school in North Logan was one of two high schools that received A grades all five years of the former school grading system.
This year, InTech received exemplary ratings in achievement, growth and postsecondary readiness.
"InTech’s lowest performing 25 percent of students also had high growth, demonstrating the robust impact of InTech’s academic supports for struggling students," Stanger said in a statement.
To visit the site, go to utahschoolgrades.schools.utah.gov.