The Utah State Office of Education released a new ranking system for schools that will replace the old state and federal accountability systems for schools. The new system, the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System or UCAS, uses standardized tests given to students in the state each spring to create the format of how schools will be graded, moving from a pass-fail system to a points-based system.
"Students are measured on whether or not they learned the course material," said USOE Director of Assessment and Accountability John Jesse. "These tests are given at end of each grade, and we use the results to determine how well a school is doing."
All public school students are tested annually on language arts, math and science, including other factors such as writing assessments and high school graduation rates. The test scores are used to determine what level students are performing at and how well the school is performing in meeting proficiency levels set by the state.
UCAS takes the composite scores of students to rank schools in a point system where schools have the potential to earn up to 600 points. Under the new points system, Park City schools were compared beyond a passing of failing grade to other schools in the state, with locals schools receiving scores ranging between 470 and 542 points.
Out of more than 1,000 ranked schools in the state, Park City School District schools fell between 54th and 286th place. The highest ranked school in the district was Treasure Mountain Junior High School, which received 542 points, closely followed by Park City High School at 515 points.
For Title One schools, a designation is given to any school that serves a certain percentage of low income students, the rankings may impact the amount of incoming federal dollars. Among other Title One schools, Parley's Park was one of the top performing schools in the state for high progress among students.
"For Title One schools, accountability has significant impact," Jesse said. "It can impact funding and sanctions Title One schools have to work hard to make progress and growth."
Principals of the local Title One schools have reservations on the new system and whether or not it will accurately tally student growth and achievement.
"There is a day-to-day grind, an ongoing effort rather than a one-time score that may not fully represent what is happening in schools," said McPolin Principal Greg Proffit. " I know there has been great concern on the way the system would display data. Schools could be cast in a different light.
"My understanding is this system uses a comparison basis a comparison of students in each grade, regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status."
David Gomez, the principal of Parley's Park, said the system was an improvement, but that it still had flaws.
"It's trying to get better comparison, not just of the schools but also the individual students in the schools.
"The state is trying to make a better comparison between students in schools. And it is not just based on proficiency levels, but also student growth."
The new system marks the progress students make in a year, adding points for student growth. Before, if a student tested well below proficiency levels at the start of the year but just under proficiency levels at the end of a year, that would negatively affect a school's pass-fail grade. Now, student growth is accounted for, meaning progress will be taken into account in the point system.
"This is a big paradigm shift," Jesse said. "Most schools used to just pass, but now half the schools in the state, will fall below the state average. There is no passing grade, just points. Moving to a comparative system was a very big paradigm shift."
The new ranking system will be introduced to the Utah Legislature for any changes and grading factors, after which it will assign letter grades based on school performances.