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Despite its top performance, an audit says Park City schools are leaving some behind

A row of lockers in a Utah school.
Brian Albers
/
KUER
A row of lockers in a Utah school.

The Park City School District is a high-performing school district in terms of overall test scores. But certain groups of students are getting left behind, according to a recent audit presented to Utah lawmakers.

The report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General analyzed the entire district, from building construction to environmental regulations to student performance, and points out where the district has fallen short.

Based on federal guidelines, the Utah State Board of Education breaks schools up into different student groups based on race and ethnicity, economic disadvantage, English language proficiency and whether they have a disability. To be considered a group in a school, at least 10 students need to fit into the category.

If a specific group in a school is performing as low as the lowest 5% of schools in the state, the state board labels it as in need of Additional Targeted Support and Improvement. That status brings additional requirements for the school to improve performance.

Across six of the seven schools in the Park City School District, there are 12 student groups that qualify as ATSI, according to the audit. The number of groups needing extra support has increased in recent years, up from nine in 2018.

“Despite the district’s overall high performance on assessments, there is a significant achievement gap between student groups that need additional support and those that do not. Although a similar gap may exist in other districts around the state, it is highlighted in PCSD due to the increasing number of student groups performing as low as the bottom 5% of schools,” the audit reads

Five Park City schools have underperforming groups of students who are English language learners. In some schools, Hispanic students, students with disabilities or economically disadvantaged students are underperforming.

The state board will conduct a resource allocation review of the district “due to their percentage of underperforming student groups,” according to the audit.

While it may be difficult to get all students performing at a high level, the audit compares Park City schools to the nearby North Summit School District.

In 2017, North Summit schools, like Park City, also had an achievement gap between certain racial groups. But now, “Students in North Summer School District are just as likely to be at grade level for literacy no matter their race or ethnicity as of 2022 testing,” the audit said.

After the audit was presented to the interim on Sept. 18 Legislative Audit Subcommittee in St. George, Republican Rep. Mike Schultz said he was concerned by how some student groups in Park City were lagging behind the rest of the state, especially when “most school districts are very envious of the position the Park City School District is in because the amount of money that they have because of their high property tax collections.”

Schultz asked representatives from the district what they were doing to improve the performance of these groups, but was frustrated by their answers. He said that was just as concerning as the numbers in the audit.

“I don’t feel like the Park City School District is really understanding the problem,” Schultz said. “In my opinion, there needs to be more focus placed on these kids.”

Senior audit supervisor Christopher McClelland said the Office of the Legislative Auditor General discussed its findings with the district and “they talked to us at length about all of the things that they’re doing to help target these students. And it seems they are. But how those programs work together, the accountability and oversight for those programs, maybe that is lacking.”

For the 2023 school year, auditors found that the district’s plans did not fulfill federal requirements and some schools did not identify specific interventions for helping their ATSI low-performing students.

In a written response to the audit, the district said that, in the future, it will make sure each school with a low-performing group has a targeted plan that can be monitored throughout the school year. The district outlined other steps it will take or is already taking.

“While the District may not fully agree with some of the Report’s conclusions, we certainly recognize that there is always work to be done and improvements that can be made,” the district wrote. “As we work to implement recommendations moving forward, we look forward to positive results for our schools and community.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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