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Utah House passes bill to eliminate letter grades from state's school report card

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Feb 14th, 2019 @ 9:35am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives gave overwhelming approval Wednesday to legislation that would eliminate letter grades from the state's public school report card.

HB198, sponsored by Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, would do away with school grades and use the state's new report card dashboard moving forward.

The latest report card has 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.

Instead of grades, schools are rated as exemplary, commendable, typical, developing or those with critical needs.

For this year only, the awarding of letter grades was suspended by the Legislature as Utah public schools transitioned to new statewide assessments. Unless the Legislature takes action this year, letter grades would return to school evaluations published by the State School Board.

Poulson said eliminating the grades has been welcomed by educators and parents. The change to a dashboard system was "a breath of fresh air after several years of an inversion," she said.

The dashboard has multiple indicators "that make us look deeper" at school performance, she said. It also provides an opportunity for schools to highlight special initiatives that enhance learning.

HB198 is supported by the Utah State Board of Education, Utah School Boards Association, the Utah Education Association and American Federation of Teachers - Utah, among others, Poulson said.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, spoke in support of HB198.

"It's high time we remove the single letter grade from schools. We tried the experiment. It doesn't work. A single letter grade doesn't help anything," he said.

If the motivation was to generate competition between or among schools, that rationale was lost on rural schools districts, where there may be only one high school or elementary school, Nelson said.

"A letter grade isn't a means to distinguish or compete. It just provides a letter of stigma that we don't need. So it's high time to remove the letter grade," Nelson said.

Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, concurred:

"I think we can file that under ‘seemed like a good idea at the time,' " Handy said of letter grades for schools.

Handy said he once supported school grades because he had hoped, with a clear delineation how neighborhood schools were performing, that more parents would get involved with their children's education.

"I don't think that really ever happened," he said.

Poulson, a retired educator, said she has searched educational journals on accountability measures and "there is no evidence at all that school grading has had any positive impact in improving student outcomes in the classroom."

The House approved the bill by a vote of 68-2. It now moves to the Utah Senate for its consideration.

Marjorie Cortez

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