- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Schools that received low grades in the state’s evaluation system have begun taking steps to improve over the next three years to avoid landing on the list again.

Utah’s grading system gives schools marks of A through F based on points awarded for student test scores and student improvement over previous scores.

Under a law passed in 2015, schools that earned the lowest 3 percent of points were designated as low-performing by the state board of education.

Those low-preforming schools must participate in a turnaround program, where a consulting firm helps for three years to try to raise test scores and earn a higher letter grade for the school.

If schools improve their letter grade, teachers will receive a pay bonus and the school will receive extra funding.

Schools that don’t improve could be converted into charter schools, taken over by the state or be closed.

Twenty-five schools have been designated as low-performing, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1QZgapZ).

Under the turnaround program, schools set up parent-teacher committees to guide the process and choose a private consultant firm from a list approved by the Utah State Office of Education.

Afton Lambson, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Salt Lake City, said he welcomes the consultant working to boost his school’s “D” grade, but he is a little apprehensive of the process.

“We’re still learning what will be required as part of the school’s turnaround plan,” he said.

Hollie Pettersson, a manager with consulting firm Education Direction, is working with Lincoln Elementary and 11 other Utah schools by looking for weaknesses and coming up with plans to raise test scores.

They’re still working out the details of those turnaround plans, Pettersson said.

Utah lawmakers have approved spending $8 million for the consulting firms, which will receive half of their fee up front and the other half if school letter grades rise.

“We definitely have skin in the game,” Pettersson said. “They’re buying us. We have a huge incentive to be as effective as we can possibly be.”

For its work with Lincoln Elementary, Education Direction will receive $160,000 up front and another $160,000 if the scores improve.

Mitch Nerdin, the director of resource development at Granite School District, said many of the 10 turnaround schools in his district were already participating in other federal and state programs to improve schools.

He said the possibility of teacher bonuses is unique to Utah’s turnaround program but probably won’t be a bigger carrot for educators than their hope to see successful students.

“The work is much too hard to have a few thousand dollars be the motivator,” he said.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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