High Elevation: Raising the Bar on General Supervision in Utah

An IDC State Impact Story by the IDC Buzz Staff

Utah. The Beehive State. Its official motto is just one word: Industry. It might come as no surprise, then, that the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) has been working hard to improve the state’s general supervision system to monitor and support its local education agencies (LEAs) in achieving compliance with federal and state requirements.

As you might guess, those efforts begin with high-quality data and a specific focus on the indicator data outlined in the state’s annual performance report (APR). Right now, their goal is to reinforce the importance of monitoring progress over time, as well as to help LEAs develop more meaningful and rigorous individualized education programs. To do so, Utah state staff look at both state- and local-level data and work with LEAs to improve outcomes and ensure compliance in key priority areas, like post-secondary transition planning for students with disabilities.

What’s the Score?

Those data analyses also lead to a kind of scorecard that further informs Utah’s general supervision system. To start, the state uses the 16 indicators from the APR to make its LEA annual performance determinations. As part of this process, state staff assess an LEA’s performance on each of those indicators and develop a score that they use for the LEA’s determination. However, state staff don’t stop there. They also determine a results-driven accountability or risk score based on Indicators 1 through 14 alongside additional factors such as fiscal data, timely and accurate data submission, and more.

This risk score is a critical piece of information, since it helps the state determine the level of support an LEA might need. Specifically, the higher the LEA’s risk level, the greater the level of support the state will offer in response. This approach is both comprehensive and flexible because it is not bound to strict schedules or programmatic cycles but is instead adaptable enough to be where it’s needed, when it’s needed.

LauraLee Gillespie, special education coordinator of the Utah Program Improvement Planning System (UPIPS), put it like this, “The way we look at it is, we tell the local education agencies that we are going to come at least once every six years. We may come more. And this is where the risk score comes in. So the risk determination is considered, as well as several other factors. The higher the risk, the more likely we are going to be coming to them.”

What Are the Stakes?

Of course, state staff are not the only voices in the room deciding on scoring systems or how to implement them into the general supervision landscape. It’s important to secure the perspectives of other interested parties as well. In Utah, the state team has spent years forming relationships with groups such the Parent Training and Information Center, Parent-Teacher Association, and Disability Law Center. There is also a legislative coalition for people with disabilities in which all state agencies and any nonprofit organizations that serve individuals with disabilities and receive state funding are required, by statute, to participate.

As Utah’s special education director, Leah Voorhies, explains, the success of their stakeholder engagement is based on these relationships, combined with targeted effort. She says, “We go to stakeholders; we don’t make them come to us.” As a result, these relationships, strengthened over time, have helped to direct and inform the focus of their ongoing work.

“Practice Supports Compliance, and Compliance Supports Practice”

Put together, these pieces create an effective, innovative process that is responsive to the needs of LEAs while also serving the state’s mission to use high-quality IDEA data to improve learning outcomes for students. Utah strives to be intentional with its LEAs and stakeholders about its continuous improvement process, leveraging those relationships to make it easier to improve outcomes for students. LauraLee Gillespie summed it up like this, “Practice supports compliance, and compliance supports practice.” We couldn’t agree more.