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School Grading: Misleading or Transparent?

On Tuesday, schools in Utah will be getting evaluation grades A through F to indicate how well their students are performing. Many in the education community say it will be giving parents the wrong impression about some schools. But Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser says it will make assessing schools more accurate and transparent.

Critics say the new letter grading system for school performance that was passed into law earlier this year is so narrow in its calculations that it will appear as though schools are doing worse than they are.

“There are always going to be schools that get F’s and D’s," Peggy Joe Kennett says.

Kennett is a member of the Jordan School Board and President of Utah School Boards Association. She says there are Utah schools being praised nationally that will get a failing grade under this new system. Kennett says the system doesn’t make concessions for schools with more special needs or low income students. And it doesn’t value progress.

“Some students start at very low levels and they make great growth during a school year," Kennett says. "But if they don’t achieve the proficiency level for their grade, even if they’re a half a point below, then they are not recognized as having achieved growth.”

But Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser says schools should be praised for passing students, not just for progress within the school year. And he argues many of the schools in the state that are getting national attention are being rewarded for specific accomplishments, not academic strength. 

 “So it’s like the paint on the car but when you open the door, you know it’s not looking very good inside. That’s what school grading does is it exposes what’s happening underneath the hood.

Niederhauser says adjustments might have to be made to make up for schools with varying special needs populations.

Utah’s new system was modeled after a grading system in Florida. A major difference is that Florida lawmakers included programs for schools to improve upon receiving a poor grade. Niederhauser says that’s something Utah still has to design.  

Spreadsheet with letter grades:

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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