BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON — Utah’s new method of assessing schools came as a boon to some schools and a blow to others.
No longer a federal system that awards a simple “yes” or “no” to schools for student performance, the new, state-designed system gives each school a number based on achievement and growth. That number for each school is compared with the state average.
Of 600 possible points, 20 elementary schools in Davis School District earned points above the state average of 435. Another 39 schools had points below the state average.
Nine district junior highs were above the state average of 435, and seven junior highs were below.
“These reports have to be looked at in context of the whole,” said Bryan Bowles, superintendent of Davis School District. “We are somewhat typical of the state’s scores on achievement, so half of our schools should be above average and half should be below average.”
As in the past, he said a district team will go into the lowest-performing schools and create a plan that includes measurable learning targets, required resources and action timelines.
“The key to great education is a great teacher in every classroom and principals who coach teachers for success,” he said.
At the high school level, all Davis County public schools scored above the high school average of 398, ranging from Davis High’s 526 points to Layton High’s 401 points. Other high school scores showed Viewmont with 489 points, Woods Cross with 484, Clearfield with 481, Northridge with 467, Bountiful with 465 and Syracuse with 441.
“By and large I’m pleased with the new system,” said Dan Linford, principal at Viewmont. “In the past, we haven’t really been able to recognize growth unless that growth brought a student from below the proficiency level. Now even if they’re above proficiency but make progress, we recognize that growth.”
The new system, unlike the old, measures graduation rates at high schools and science scores at all schools. It will adjust the focus in some areas, said Linford.
“We’ll improve where we’ll need to improve,” he said.
Improvement is also on the minds of educators at South Clearfield Elementary, which received the lowest score among Davis elementary schools, at 316.
“It was quite a shock to our school,” said Daren Allred, principal at South Clearfield, especially after recently hearing a report on improved test scores.
“When UCAS came out it was quite devastating to the teachers. I think they’re struggling right now.”
Changing the method of assessment has had an impact, he said, comparing it to measuring for height for years and then switching to a measurement of body fat or muscle mass.
“As a Title 1 school we focus so much on language arts and math. We’ve put so much of our energy in those things and this year science counts,” he said. “When you’re trying to teach kids to read, that becomes the priority.
Linford is already looking forward.
`“We’ll adjust,” he said. “Our teachers are resilient, they’re professional.”
South Clearfield has 33 teachers and 570 students. The state report lists demographics as 29 percent minority, 9 percent English learners and 61 percent low-income students.
“Our community and those that know us are in the schools and they see what we’re doing and they’re very supportive and very appreciative of what happens here with their students and in the classroom,” said Allred. The score is “not representative at all of our teachers and their work. It’s a wonderful school and a very caring staff.”
Beth Johnston, principal at Endeavor Elementary, praised parents and teachers in explaining the score of 584 her school obtained. The score was the third highest in the state, she said, just below two magnet schools.
As an example of parental support, she said the school measured 100 percent attendance for Student Education Plan conferences.
Efforts by educators at Endeavor include a focus on utilizing technology, emphasizing science and ensuring excellent classroom instruction.
The school uses Trust Lands money to hire paraprofessionals, said Johnston, and rather than having those paraprofessionals work with struggling students, they help other students, freeing certified teachers to spend time students who need extra help.
“We’ve reversed the norm,” she said. “We give the teacher a protected time every day to work with maybe just three students that we’ve targeted with their specific needs.”
Endeavor has 30 teachers for 700 students, according to the Utah report. Of those, 4 percent are minority, 1 percent are English learners and 6 percent are from low-income families.
“This system is better than AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress, the testing system from No Child Left Behind), but it’s not perfect,” said Logan Toone, director of assessment for Davis School District. “This is an indicator of a school’s success, not the indicator.”
A teacher engaging a child in an activity, for example, may never appear on a test, he said.
“Because it’s a new measure we can’t attach good or bad” to the scores, he said.
“We are concerned for the schools not showing progress,” he said. “Under the old system we may not have known. We will put our resources, our training and our efforts into the schools that need help.”
See “School rankings out this Friday” in theNov. 29 edtion of the Clipper for more information about how the rankings work.