OGDEN -- Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith on Wednesday voiced his support for the controversial School Grading System, which on Tuesday released letter grades for all Utah public schools.
"I applaud any system that allows us to analyze and understand what is going on in our schools," Smith said at a news conference outside Ogden's Polk Elementary, which earned a "B" from the School Grading System.
Smith proposed "three cheers" for the students and faculty members of Polk Elementary and of Ogden Preparatory Academy, which also earned a "B."
"I think I only have two cheers for school grades, and here is the reason: School grades will be utterly meaningless unless somebody does something about it."
Backed by local and state business leaders and government officials, and flanked by schoolchildren from Polk and Ogden Prep, Smith said he hopes the new system, based on House Bill 271, will draw attention, parental concern and resources to schools in need of improvement.
Representatives from Smith's own district, and from Morgan, Box Elder, Weber and Davis school districts have described the School Grading System as flawed, especially in its assigning of a single letter grade to each Utah public and charter school. The grade offers an incomplete and often skewed picture of what is going on in schools, said Logan Toone, Davis School District director of assessment.
"They may want people to get riled up, but what if people get riled up and start pulling students out of public schools," said Toone, who did not attend the news conference. "The grades are getting a reaction, but an impulse reaction may not be the right reaction. I look at my own involvement as a parent, and if I want to be involved with my student's education, I don't need a report card to tell me I need to be involved."
Toone won't support a system with flawed methodology.
"Let's call on community support to make changes, but not rely on flawed methodology that really doesn't represent what is really going on."
At the Wednesday news conference, Alan Hall, founder of MarketStar and chairman of the Prosperity 2020 business alliance, said the School Grading System has the support of the business community, which seeks to improve the economy through better education.
"This school and this district are accomplishing great things," Hall said. "You've got lots of challenges, I recognize, in trying to educate a lot of the wonderful students here in this area."
Hall, interviewed Tuesday by the Standard-Examiner, admitted reservations about the School Grading System.
"I support accountability and measurements, sort of scorekeeping, so we know where we are," Hall said. "As to this legislation that was passed, I'm not satisfied with that. The spirit of it is sort of there, but the way it was put together and the outcome and how we measure, I'm not so happy with that. I recognized that it is what it is, it's a law, and so we'll take it from there."
Rich Nelson, president of the Utah Technology Council, said he believes that raising Utah's educational standards will improve the economy.
"Our No.1 issue for the 4,700 IT and trade tech companies in the state is talent shortage," Nelson told his listeners. "We have thousands of open positions currently in the state. These are very high-paying jobs. Unfortunately we've found in working with the 900 schools in the state, we're not producing enough talent in that pipeline."
Nelson said the School Grading System helps get important data out to the public.
"Transparency is a good thing. Now we can really do some things. We would hope that this would engage our community, no matter what your grade is ... I think that is a very positive start to move forward."
Utah State Rep. Ryan D. Wilcox told listeners at the news conference that even if the School Grading System is not perfect, it is stirring public interest.
"In the past few days, I heard from several parents in my neighborhood and at work, who haven't paid attention in the past to the data from their own schools, who were surprised by some of the data they'd seen," he said.
Wilcox said those parents hadn't been able to decipher information provided through other test-score reporting systems, such as UCAS (Utah Comprehensive Accountability System).
"They understand letter grades," Wilcox said of the parents. "We can understand it, and it allows us to have the data that is comprehensible to the average parent, to know what needs to be focused on."
Smith said when he learned of Polk's letter grade, he asked his testing specialist to apply the School Grading System to last year's data for the school. Last year, Polk would have earned a "C," Smith said.
"And today they are receiving a 'B.' That represents study effort. It's not an accident, not random chance. It's not anything other than hard work."
Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at