Transitioning to new accountability system not easy

Transitioning to new accountability system not easy

(Utah) Schools statewide are struggling to adapt to a new accountability system while also transitioning to new assessments, prompting the state board to suspend issuing new school grades.

Developed in compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new accountability system is designed to give each school a letter grade based mostly on student performance and test scores.

Last fall, the first year under the new system, the number of schools that performed at an ‘A’ or ‘B’ level fell by almost 10 percent. Meanwhile, the number of schools given a D or F grew at a similar rate.

Like a growing number of states, Utah is attempting to develop an accountability system not just based on test scores. Under legislation adopted last year, graduation rates at high schools are taken into consideration as well as the number of students participating in advanced coursework.

Among younger students, the scores are more academic, but also include the performance of English learners and the growth of a school’s lowest scoring quartile.

Part of the problem, state officials said, is that a growing number of parents are opting to take their children out of the testing pool. The statewide opt-out rate nearly doubled in Utah in the past three years, from 3.1 percent in 2015 to 5.9 percent last year.

Earlier this month, the state board called on lawmakers to help refine the existing system. State officials are looking at other ways of expressing performance outside of the A-to-F matrix. A number representation, for instance.

Some in the Capitol wondered if the state board was really looking for something new.

“Is it just that the A-B-C thing stresses everyone out?” Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, asked the Desert Morning News earlier this month. “It just seems to me that you’re talking exactly the same thing by a different name.”

Expectations are that letter grades for schools will return in the fall of 2019—unless lawmakers agree on some other format.

As currently designed, the new system is considered to be more equitable than its predecessor. Under the old system, letter grade targets would move in relation to the number of schools that meet the standard. Thus, schools could perform well and not receive a higher grade.

The new system uses “performance thresholds” for each letter grade that spells out how schools can attain the goal. There is also no limit on the number of schools that can be awarded top grades.

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