OGDEN -- Classes in Ogden School District have curriculum about a year below assigned grade levels, according to an audit report conducted by a Colorado company.
RMC Research, of Denver, arrived at the Ogden School District last month to interview district officials and talk to representative numbers of teachers, parents and students. The resulting "snapshot," as it is characterized by Superintendent Brad Smith, was discussed at a recent work session of the Ogden School Board.
And the snapshot is not all that flattering.
"The audit was requested by the state, with respect to the title programs, because the state has provided a lot of money over the years, and wanted to ascertain what we are doing," Smith said. "We were able to choose who did the audit, and oddly, were also able to choose the criteria on which they audited us."
Smith said the OSD chose the Brode Prize Framework for School District Excellence, which is rigorous.
"It's a world-class framework to delineate between highly performing districts," Smith said.
RMC gave the Ogden School District very high marks on its financial system and high marks on maintaining control and order in classrooms.
"The single greatest deficiency was in terms of instruction," Smith said. "They stated that we were instructing at substantially lower levels than we should be, about a year behind. A fourth-grade classroom was being instructed on a third-grade level, for example. There are serious things we need to correct."
Smith said various audits in the past have reported that curriculum was lagging behind grade level, but none before had described it as a full grade level behind.
Asked why classes would be a year behind grade level, Smith said he wasn't sure.
"It's a bit of a puzzlement to me," he said. "It's an accumulation of decisions made over years and years of education. It is something that can be corrected. I suspect that gradually, over the years, our children struggled; we wanted to make them feel successful, and bit by bit, allowed the standards to be lowered, so children could feel successful. Unfortunately, that's a short-term fix that has long- term consequences. That may be one motivation."
Smith said the district already has taken steps to add more rigor to the education it offers, and more changes are coming.
Smith said the RMC report also criticized the district for not having a districtwide strategic plan.
"It's true that we don't have one that exists on a single piece of paper," he said. "That's something we will be working on."
Smith said the RMC report also questioned whether the district has enough staff to accomplish the improvements it needs to make.
"They are saying we are too light at the district level," he said. "That's the opposite of what you hear from some people in the area who think we are top heavy."
One example cited by the RMC report was that most districts have two to four people coordinating efforts to move toward a common core curriculum. Ogden has one person who also has another assignment, so in effect, the district has half a person, Smith said. One district official overseeing multiple programs, Smith said, "over time is one of the reasons our district is where it is at."
RMC also found a lack of assessment and data analysis, he said.
"We collect a massive amount of data," Smith said. "We have tons of teachers getting tons of data, and we don't have the ability to utilize it in a meaningful way. We don't have anyone at the district level to teach teachers to do that and what their data means."
Smith also took issue with some of the methods used by RMC Research. One example was that in a focus group, someone mentioned the district has trouble attracting and retaining teachers from within Utah.
Smith said that comment was incorrect, and that about half the district's teachers come from Weber State University, and most stay. Smith said a single comment, factually incorrect, was represented as if it were fact in the final report.
"I don't view this audit as a bad thing," Smith said. "If we were in football season right now, pro teams, high school teams and college teams would be watching videos of how the guys ran plays. This audit report is not different than that. Somebody came in and watched a few plays.
"I accept it, I applaud it and I am grateful for it. I welcome the feedback. Part of being a professional is holding yourself responsible. I view it as hugely positive, even if it is not the glowing report we had hoped for."