Guest column: Utah issues letter grades to public schools

A PlusBy the Association of American Educators

During the 2013 legislative season, the state of Utah passed SB721 in an effort to foster a culture of transparency in public schools. Similar to bills in 15 other states, the new law measures various sources and awards an easy-to-understand letter grade to all public schools. According to a report, 55 percent of Utah’s 855 public schools earned either an A or a B grade. Just 14 percent of schools earned a D or an F.

Grades were based on a combination of student growth and student performance on criterion-referenced tests in language arts, math, and science. High schools were judged, in part, on the additional standard of graduation rates. Schools were also asked to test at least 95 percent of all their students and 95 percent of their underperforming students.

Education reform experts agree that the new system will be effective. “With the clear results from an A-F grading program, Utah is placing a strong focus on student performance. Parents and students are finally getting the clarity they deserve. We applaud Utah for recognizing both achievement and growth,” said Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

While we must work together to ensure careful implementation and practical grading criteria, this new accountability program is a step in the right direction for Utah’s education stakeholders.

By giving every school an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking, the state has created the simplest and clearest representation of how schools truly are performing – both good and bad. This new system will shed light on the education reform debate and allow parents and community members the ability to understand how their local schools are performing. An informed and engaged public will be instrumental in improving schools in the future.

In the new age of accountability in public schools, teachers are also embracing policies that promote transparency and results. According to AAE’s National Membership Survey, 89 percent of teachers surveyed support services such as GreatSchools. These programs and organizations allow stakeholders to search and compare schools in their area via letter grades.

Teachers are, in fact, supportive of policies that easily identify schools based on performance. Although improving schools is a complex issue, we must embrace accountability and transparency in our public schools.

This column is also posted here.

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