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Utah Looking at Possibly Scrapping Their State Accountability Law

The federal No Child Left Behind Act isn't the only law that requires education bosses to identify which schools pass muster and which don't.

The state, under its own "U-PASS" accountability law passed three years ago, requires schools that aren't up to snuff to be announced, but under a whole different set of rules.

Add that to the Dec. 15 No Child Left Behind reports, last month's Nation's Report Card, and some 40 million bits of statewide test scores and other school data posted online this fall, and parents ought to have a clear idea of what's going on in their schools.

At least, that was the plan.

But some leaders, including a co-sponsor of the U-PASS law, wonder if it's overkill.

"I don't think we want two different standards to do the reporting by, nor do we want two different systems to say, here are the schools that are adequate and here are the schools that are inadequate. I think the public would be confused by that," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "It's my intention that we have the Legislature look at that when we begin the session and determine . . . whether our current U-PASS requirement needs to be modified or changed or repealed in light of No Child Left Behind."

The 2000 Utah Performance Assessment System for Students requires students take a slew of state and national tests and have results publicly reported. The idea is to give parents information about their schools, and give schools tools to pinpoint needs.

U-PASS requirements have been phased in. And this school year comes one of the final hurdles: Coming up with a way to publicly identify schools "not achieving state-established acceptable levels of student performance in order to assist those schools in raising their student performance levels."

State lawmakers loved the idea in the beginning.

But now, they have No Child Left Behind to contend with.

That federal law, created in the same spirit as U-PASS, requires schools to make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) in three areas: test scores, having 95 percent of students taking tests and posting high attendance and graduation rates.

Schools that don't make AYP in each area, for each student group broken down for ethnicity, poverty, special education and students learning English as a second language are publicly identified as not making AYP.

The requirement has created a hubbub in Utah. Many of the schools not making AYP apparently will be able to tie the failure to participation rates some of which were incorrectly calculated and special education student scores. Superintendents might fix participation rate errors before reporting to the public Dec. 15. The state education office also has gathered extra data to prevent last year's special education test scores from being artificially inflated, and therefore, making it harder for those students to achieve AYP this year.
So with all that in the pipe, some question what good would come from a second judgment placed on schools.

"What is very, very difficult, is for a patron to really understand what it all means when they have so many different measures of accountability, none of which are related," said Barry Newbold, superintendent of Jordan School District, the state's largest. "It is more confusing than helpful to a parent."
But state testing coordinator Louise Moulding believes the U-PASS requirement is not so bad.

"It would be nice . . . not to confuse the public with two designations (for school success). On the other hand, it gives us another opportunity to communicate with the public . . . (on) a comprehensive view of a school."

Stephenson on Tuesday said he would call legislative researchers to examine whether U-PASS jibes with No Child Left Behind. He'll decide whether to open a bill to address whatever duplications he finds.

Meanwhile, the state education office is working to comply with U-PASS.

A committee is discussing what information could be used, and how it might be weighted, in deciding whether a school meets standards. Spring 2004 core curriculum test scores will be used in the state's first report.

— Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Too many school ratings?
Deseret Morning News


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