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SALT LAKE CITY — For this year at least, the Utah State Board of Education may be forgiven for not using letter grades on school report cards.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, has introduced legislation that says for the 2018-19 school year, the state board is not required to assign Utah public schools an overall rating using an A-F letter grading scale due to irregularities in statewide test administration last spring.
The Senate Education Committee gave unanimous approval to a substitute version, SB119, on Tuesday, sending it to the full Utah Senate for its consideration.
The bill contains a coordinating clause if legislation introduced by Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, also passes. HB175 would eliminate the letter grade requirement. The latest version of HB175 passed the House 70-0 and awaits action in the Utah Senate.
Poulson has introduced similar legislation the past three years. During a committee hearing earlier this session, HB175 had overwhelming support from education constituencies, including Gov. Gary Herbert.
Addressing SB119, Rita Heagren, American Federation of Teachers-Utah’s vice president for political action, said she was substitute teaching in a junior high school when technical problems disrupted the the administration of RISE testing.
Heagren said she observed a student attempt three or four times to submit the answer to a single math question.
“My personal experience is, it’s tough to get good data from a flawed testing situation,” Heagren said.
Sara Jones, director of government relations for the Utah Education Association, thanked Henderson and the State School Board for acting on concerns raised by educators regarding the reliability of testing data that resulted in a “very strong and public perception the testing data is flawed in some way.”
In January, the Utah State Board of Education posted its annual accountability report without letter grades after problems with RISE testing. The board took the action pending a determination about letter grades during the 2020 legislative session.
RISE is an acronym for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment. RISE assessments were to be given annually to students in grades three through eight. After statewide interruptions in testing, the State School Board ended its contract with the testing vendor.
The board’s website includes this explanation of the accountability report: “Just as students’ report cards provide a snapshot of their school performance, the Utah School Report Cards show how public schools across Utah are serving students in a variety of areas. The dashboard displays key information about schools. Users can click through each page to learn more.”
The dashboard provides schools’ results on statewide tests, student growth, progress of English learners and allows schools to report school-level factors that influence performance such as consistent school attendance, numbers of students who are English language learners or considered homeless under federal education definitions.
State statute currently requires letter grades on the state school accountability report. However, they have not been assigned for two consecutive years because in 2017-18, the state moved to a new baseline for testing after switching from SAGE testing (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence), and in 2018-19 due to testing administration problems with RISE.