steve-whatcottby Steve Whatcott
Network Director, Promise Kearns 

…What does the grade not tell us??? 

The school grades for 2015-16 were recently made public and for the second year in a row Kearns High School received an “F” grade. So, what does that mean? When a school receives an “A” does that mean that the students receive a superior education? Are the teachers better at “A” and “B” schools? Is a school receiving a “C” merely an average school? Because it received an “F” two years in a row, is Kearns High a failing school?


Why does the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) give school grades and how are those grades determined?

Elementary and Middle School grades are based exclusively on student performance on the end-of-year test (SAGE) that students take in Language Arts (English), Math and Science. High schools have an additional component that adds graduation rates and ACT scores to the final school grade. Based on SAGE scores, a high school receives up to 300 points based on how much student scores improve from one year to the next. An additional 300 points are allotted for the overall number of proficient students. For the last third of the total score, 150 points are given for the high school graduation rate and 150 points for student scores on the ACT test (college entrance test). The school grade is based on the school’s score divided by the total possible (900 points). The resulting % determines the school grade. High schools that score above 69% get an A,  56-68% receive a B, 48-55% get a C; 45-47% get a D and below 45%, an F.

Congratulations, dear reader, for reading this far. Most people don’t make it past the “headline”, which labels Kearns as a failing school. At the same time, most people would assume that a student attending Skyline, which has received either an A or B every year, must be receiving a better education.

So, why does the USOE assign school grades? One reason is to motivate schools to get more of their students to basic proficiency levels. Thus, beginning this past year and continuing for multiple years to come, the grading percentages will be raised each year. Unfortunately, Kearns High, which raised its % enough to improve to a “D” based on last year’s percentages, was given an “F” grade this year. In the Granite School District, Skyline, Olympus, Taylorsville, Hunter, and Kearns all received a grade lower this year than they would have received based on last year’s percentages. Cyprus was the only high school in the district whose grade went up.


For the record, Kearns had the second highest improvement score [+15] in the district, next to Cyprus [+31].  Taylorsville was labeled as being a “D” school even though it was only 1 point (out of 900) away from receiving a “C”.  Even though Hunter improved +7, they dropped from a “C” to a “D”.

Many people are upset. If the grading system is intended to promote growth, critics contend that the grade does not accurately reflect a school’s efforts and meaningful measurements of growth. If the goal is to promote growth, how can the current system allow schools like Skyline [-43 points] and Olympus [-70 points] to receive higher grades than five of the six schools on the west side, which all saw significantly higher gains in total points than their east side counterparts?

A discerning stakeholder will dig deeper to see what efforts are being made to help students make that growth.  One west-side school, Cyprus, has gone from an “F” to a “C” in a few years. Kearns has raised its graduation rates from 66% to 79% over the past four years and Hunter has seen steady growth in graduation rates, ACT scores over the past several years.

So, kind reader, if you have read this article all the way to the conclusion, I not only congratulate you, I thank you.  You have taken the time to look beyond the headlines of the USOE’s school grades.

So, what’s next? As a community, are we going to buy into the shaming of schools, or are we going to dig deeper and figure out how we can work together to tackle the issues of inequity and figure out how we can help all of our students, on both sides of the district, achieve their dreams?

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