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Utah: Raising School Grades and Expectations

• Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Earlier this month the Utah State Office of Education released the 2015 school grades, and more schools are earning A and B grades.

This year, 62 percent of Utah schools earned an A or B grade, up from 56 percent the first year schools were graded in 2013. There were also fewer schools, only 8 percent, with D and F grades this year. This dropped from 14 percent in 2013.

These improvements are even more laudable given that Utah is asking more of schools. In 2014, the state raised the bar for student proficiency expectations on the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) to align with the expectations set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results.

Utah School Grades


In 2013, Utah began grading schools on an A-F scale. This grading system holds schools accountable in a transparent way that parents and the public can easily understand. Everyone instinctively recognizes that an A represents exceptional work and a D means there is plenty of room for improvement.

Each Utah school’s grade is based on student achievement and growth, measuring how well the school is preparing students with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in the next grade – and most importantly – after high school. The school grades also have a focus on the lowest performing students and measure high school graduation rates and the percentage of students who meet college and career ready benchmarks on the ACT

With the A-F School Grading System, every Utah parent, educator and community member can take part in improving the education system in the state and raising student achievement expectations. Now in its third year of implementation, the A-F School Grading System is a continuous process and Utah’s education leaders should be commended for their steadfast dedication to providing responsible, clear reports on schools.

We applaud Utah’s education leaders for their continued commitment to school accountability and encourage them to continue to raise the bar because success is never final, and reform is never finished. Utah’s actions are moving the state toward a future where all children are able to master the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in the next grade and life after high school.

Watch this video to see how A-F School Grades
shine a bright light on schools’ effectiveness.


Background on A-F School Grading Policy:

  • A-F School Grading systems have been adopted in Utah and 15 other states.
  • A-F grades promote transparency. Using clear and transparent A, B, C, D and F descriptors ensures that there is a scale parents, teachers and administrators clearly understand. Unlike any other scale, A-F provides a system that is understandable and relevant.
  • A-F grades distinguish, in an immediately understandable way, schools that are doing a good job of making sure kids are learning, schools that are failing and schools that need to work harder to improve.
  • A-F promotes excellence. The command focus on learning allows administrators, educators and parents to focus on students. No one is satisfied with a “C” grade or even a “B” grade. Everyone strives for excellence in a way you don’t see with fuzzy descriptors like “satisfactory” or “performing.”
  • Access student growth toward standards. Using criterion-based growth in a school grading system ensures students are measured on their individual progress towards meeting pre-determined expectations, or “standards.” A standard is set for the amount of growth a student must make to demonstrate at least a year’s worth of progress in a year’s time towards the mastery of a certain set of skills.

Visit ExcelinEd’s Policy Library to learn more about A-F School Grades.

About the author

Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Christy Hovanetz is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on school accountability policies. Dr. Hovanetz served as the Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education and Assistant Deputy Commissioner at the Florida Department of Education. She has worked in education policy for the state of Florida since 1999 serving as the Director of Evaluation and Reporting, Director of Reading First and a Policy Analyst for Governor Jeb Bush. She graduated summa cum laude from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a minor in mathematics and is a certified teacher in the state of Minnesota. She earned her Masters of Public Administration at the University of Minnesota and a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.