Build better school accountability

August 29th, 2017|Action of the Day|0 Comments

Background: In 2001, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser sponsored a school grading bill similar to Jeb Bush in Florida. Both bills gave letter grades to K-12 schools based on standardized tests. The difference? Florida’s bill gave money to failing schools. While Utah has a Turnaround Program attempting to address this issue, results are mixed and most teachers, school administrators and families are skeptical about the efficacy of standardized tests and school grades.

What happened this year: In 2017 there were two bills which looked at School Accountability standards. In the Senate, Sen. Ann Millner, a Republican from Ogden succeeded in a one-year moratorium on school grading as Utah high schools transition to a new test. House Rep. Marie Poulson’s more ambitious “dashboard of accountability” bill passed the House and had significant support of educators, administrators and families but was tabled by Sen. Niederhauser in the Senate’s third reading.

What is Action Utah doing? Action Utah leaders are compiling more data about different accountability standards and how they benefit academic and social outcomes for Utah kids. We will deliver that data along with anecdotes about to Senate President Niederhauser as well as other Senators and House Representatives running education bills in 2018 to inform policy decisions.


  1. Share your SAGE Score or school grades story. Send an e-mail to our education Issue Captain here about how SAGE scores or school grades have impacted your student, home, or classroom. Please include your school district and zip code. Your story will be compiled with other narrative experiences from ordinary community members.
  2. Write to your House Representative and Senator ( and say something like: “I supported House Representative Marie Poulson’s School Accountability Bill. It passed through most readings and I was disappointed to hear it was tabled. In the next session what will you do to support changes for School Accountability Standards? Standardized tests alone are not helping kids or schools, especially in a time of a massive teacher shortage.”
  3. Say thank you to Sen. Millner ( and Rep. Paulson ( for their work on amending School Accountability Standards in 2017. Let them know you support the changes which passed and are hopeful changes will continue to happen in future bills.
  4. Join our Education Action Team to promote good policy in education. Take easy actions from home or join Action Utah leaders in community lobbying efforts to impact policymaking. Simply contact us here to join the team.

Talking points and links for parents or educators in specific scenarios

— I know that public school teachers and administrators are put under significant pressure to improve scores on standardized tests.
— Despite increased parent skepticism about the values of testing, and studies showing their lack of effectiveness, this is how Utah schools continue to be evaluated. 
— As this article from the Washington Post says, “we can’t assess our way to excellence,” but we can look at other measures that would improve the experience of public school students.

— I know that the best innovations happen from flexible assessment strategies.
— If our state charter and private schools can measure academic achievement outside of standardized testing, these benefits should be passed on to all of Utah’s public school children. All children deserve the same benefits regardless of whether their families can afford private education or have luck in a charter lottery.

— Students in special education classrooms or using resource programs are less likely to perform well on standardized testing. 
— School’s should be considered successful when they have integrated resource programs, diverse student bodies, and allow unique programs like peer tutoring for individuals with disabilities. It’s unfair that a public school would receive a failing grade for serving disabled students and removes incentives for schools to address the need for students with disabilities.
— Utah’s rates of ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder are higher than the national average so this issue deeply impacts our public schooling.

— There is evidence that low-income schools are more likely to receive failing grades when standardized testing is the only measure. 
— Students in Utah’s Title 1 schools can fail for a number of reasons: changing schools multiple times per year because of a lack of affordable housing, a lack of materials needed to teach to the SAGE test, a poor experience at school due to poor nutrition and sleep, a lack of paraprofessionals to assist student’s taking tests with special needs, and language barriers in the tests themselves.
— Utah schools could solve some of the issues above if the pressure to achieve specific test results was less crucial to retaining neighborhood students. Changing accountability standards will allow a school to address its more specific issues and serve their students better.

— As someone who objects to the Common Core standards, preferring local control over education, I agree that addressing ineffective assessment is an important piece of the debate. Requiring students to have a one-size-fits-all educational approach does not align with other Utah politics and eliminating SAGE assessments is something many parents in my community would appreciate.

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