Anytime you put together an evaluation system, there are inequities and it has to be refined. This is an effort to try to refine that. —Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton
SALT LAKE CITY — The automatic F grade that stung several Utah schools last year may soon be shown the door if a bill sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, becomes law.
SB209, which was made public Wednesday, makes several revisions to the state's controversial school grading system, such as excluding alternative high schools from receiving grades and omitting students with severe disabilities from the calculation of a school's graduation rate.
The bill also waives grades for newly opened schools — the first year of an elementary school and the first two years of a new secondary school — and imposes a penalty of a single letter grade for low test participation as an alternative to the automatic F.
"Anytime you put together an evaluation system, there are inequities and it has to be refined," Adams said. "This is an effort to try to refine that."
A group of roughly 20 education stakeholders have been meeting during the Legislature's interim to discuss tweaks to the school grading system, which released its first reports in September.
The grades are determined by a point system that scores schools on the number of students who test proficient in English, math and science, as well as improvement in proficiency and, in the case of high schools, graduation rates and ACT scores.
For the first round of school grades in September, 11 percent of Utah schools received an A grade, 45 percent received a B, 30 percent received a C, 10 percent received a D and 4 percent received an F.
But among those schools that received an F grade were otherwise A- and B-grade schools that failed to test at least 95 percent of their students, as well as most of the state's alternative high schools, which often house a mobile population of students who enter and exit the traditional school system throughout the academic year.
Adams said the principle behind the automatic F was to make sure schools focus on their nonproficient students and not benefit from low test participation. He said the change to a single letter grade penalty is consistent with that goal while not collapsing a school's performance by a single criteria.
"Part of the F grade was to say, 'You’ve got to test everyone, and you can’t exclude those nonproficient students,'" he said. "But it was a little harsh to go from an A to an F."
Adams also said there were discussions about evaluating each component of school grading separately in addition to an overal letter grade. In doing so, he said, high performance schools that struggle to maintain improvement in test scores due to a high starting point would be able to demonstrate high marks in that area.
Adams said his bill does not require multiple letter grades, but it allows the State Office of Education to issue component grades if officials choose to do so.
"The statute allows it," he said. "It’s silent, but the opportunity exists."
The State School Board has not yet taken an official position on Adams' bill, but he said individual board members participated in the working group that assisted in the drafting of the SB209.
"Many of the changes they are on board with," he said. "I hope they're supportive."