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Are Base Assumptions Behind Park City School’s Grade Realignment Flawed?

At the heart of the Park City School District plan for rebuilding schools is the concept of grade realignment. Grade realignment means that Pre-K to 4th grade will be in elementary schools. There will be a new 5th/6th school, a 6th/7th school, and the high school. We’ll be moving schools around, adding on to them, and making multi million dollar changes ($65 million in changes to be exact). The reason given for grade realignment was that only 9% of Hispanic 11th graders were proficient in English. So, the idea was spawned that we should have all day Kindergarten for all children in order to improve results. With the addition of these extra Kindergartners, there wouldn’t be room in our elementary schools, so we had to move the 5th grade out and it caused a chain reaction across the district.

At face value, all day Kindergarten seems to make sense to solve proficiency issues. If we can only have 4 more hours a day with Kindergarten kids who don’t speak English as their first language, they will learn English more quickly. In fact studies show that by second grade, many English as a second language students have caught up and are on par with their classmates. It truly sounds like a great solution. So, what’s the problem?


You see, studies show that there is great success for children in full day Kindergarten (vs half day) until first or second grade. Anecdotal evidence shows the same thing. Many Kindergarten teachers describe miraculous changes that happen after a few months. The problem is that the impact seems short lived. In fact, most studies seem to show that any benefit of full day Kindergarten over half day Kindergarten disappears by the end of second grade (often by first grade). Fade out indicates that those children who had all day Kindergarten, and those who had full day Kindergarten, will have statistically similar test scores by 3rd grade (i.e., there is no test score benefit related to all day K over half day K).

There is now an effort to figure out why that is. There are some who say that the methodologies used in these studies looking at the long-term effects of all day Kindergarten are flawed. That may be true. Yet, what seems to be true for sure is that there are few if any well designed studies that show that a full day of Kindergarten versus a half day of Kindergarten adds any lasting effect. Take this Ed Central article on a recent study on all day Kindergarten. The article is very much in support of all day Kindergarten and describes a new study by Chloe R. Gibbs that uses new data to show benefits of all day Kindergarten. Yet, what does it conclude?

While encouraging, Gibbs’s findings are just a first examination of the students’ outcomes. We will need further analysis to get a clearer picture of full-day kindergarten effects…Unfortunately, many such studies find better academic performance for students chosen to participate in the program soon after the intervention, only to see regular-track students catch up in their performance by later years. This phenomenon — so-called “fadeout” — has left some doubting the efficacy of such interventions…So the “fade-out” criticism has long haunted early education proponents. As Gibbs, who is well-acquainted with the mystery of test score convergence, continues to study the students in the experiment, it will be interesting to see what further light her experiment can shed on this uncertain aspect of early education.EdCentral, December 2014

I would encourage you to read the article. It is very balanced. It appears to conclude that Full-Day-K seems to have benefits for a while. However, it says that a lot of research concludes those benefits are short-term, but that more research is needed to really know why. It also talks about how some research shows test scores aren’t improved long-term through Full-Day-K but some adult outcomes, like long-term earnings, are improved. Lest you think I cherry-picked an article on the subject, do a search on Google for “all day Kindergarten fade out.” The results of studies are all over the map. There is a lot of defense of all day Kindergarten. However, if you read through the literature, I would challenge you to come away with a rock-solid feeling that our 11th grade Hispanic students are going to improve their English proficiency test scores through this effort.

So what do I take away from it? There needs to be more research on Full-Day-K to determine whether outcomes last.

What’s the problem with this? It seems we began this school rebuilding adventure with the notion that we had to realign grades to help our English as a Second language kids. However, research doesn’t show it will have any impact over the half day Kindergarten (which we already have) past the second grade. Research may eventually show that it works or research may show it doesn’t. Yet, we’ve made a BIG plan based on an idea that just sounds good. If we didn’t realign the grades, we may still have to rebuild Treasure Mountain on Kearns ($25 million). We may still want an Athletic Field House ($12 million) but we wouldn’t have to upheave the entire school district to achieve the goal.

For a school district that prides itself on making decision based on research, this is more than a little worrisome.



Julie Eihausen


The grade realignment and changes to the PCSD schools was not driven solely by all day K. While all day K is certainly a factor, the fact that we have several schools at or over capacity, along with a structural failing school that houses two grades – or 800 students – means there are many reasons for the realignment. Oh, and don’t forget the need to move the 9th graders back into the high school – where they belong.

We do need all day K. Study after study shows that it provides an incredible opportunity and reduces the need for remediation in the upper grades, which also saves a lot of money in the long run.

We also have 800 students currently attending Treasure that need to be rehoused. While you do not believe the school needs to be leveled, the three independent studies we commissioned all do. We have major system failures – electrical, plumbing, hvac – the roof was designed for a 70lb snow load (current code is 110lb snow load), and the walls are not up to seismic standards for 2015. Repairing all of this is @$20-23 million. These repairs do nothing about the narrow hallways, insufficient lunchroom, poor flow pattern and lack of natural light; a new school is @$25 million. Why would we not demolish and start anew?

The dual immersion situation is not working at Ecker and is costing more than it should to operate. 6th grade is an elementary grade and 7th grade is a secondary grade. Staff is certified to be either and that creates a serious financial and logistical issue. By combining 5/6th grades, we alleviate the overcrowding in our elementary schools and also provide a true DLI experience for the elementary grades per the design for DLI. We also create the opportunity for a true secondary grade level experience in DLI for 7/8th grades.

Grade realignment has several drivers and all day K is just one of those.

Again, you and anyone in our community, are always welcome to contact me and get the facts rather than continue to speculate.

Julie Eihausen
PC School Board Member


Hi Julie-

First, thank you for providing your perspective. I want to ensure that my viewpoint isn’t the only one expressed and you always do a nice job of explaining where you are coming from.

In this case though, I have to point out that I attended more master planning committee meetings than anyone not officially on the master planning committee. So, I’m not purely “speculating” about the motives. I was there for the weeks of discussion about the pros and cons of realigning grades. I was also there the day Dr Conley (School Superintendent) announced that she had decided to move forward with grade realignment and that it was her decision to make. During her announcement she talked about a meeting she had with elementary school principals and her cabinet. She says “it really came down to how are we going to change our literacy scores with our 11th graders…”

Now, I don’t doubt there are other benefits to grade realignment. Perhaps it makes dual immersion more effective. Perhaps having two elementary classes together (5th/6th) can make scheduling teachers and getting endorsements more efficient. But if the reason for having all day kindergarten and realigning grades comes down to 11th grade literacy scores, the research just doesn’t prove that it will help long term.

As for Treasure Mountain, I mentioned in this article that we may want to rebuild it. I’m not opposed to that — nor do I think most people are. However, I have to call a spade a spade. I don’t know that there were 3 independent estimates on repairing it. I believe the head of the Master Planning Committee asked for a final “independent” estimate because people had issue with the two before it. For instance, here is the first estimate from 2014:
Facility needs:
Auditorium for 1000 Students: $4,650,000
Lecture Hall /Professional development: $750,000
2ea. Teacher workrooms: $500,000
Wider Halls without dead-ends: $1,000,000
Mechanical System Upgrades:
Upgrade Electrical & Lighting System: $4,200,000
Plumbing (waterlines): $3,000,000
Water Softener for Hot & Cold Water: $70,000
Fire Sprinkler system: $1,000,000
Fire Alarm System: $50,000
Replacement boilers and heat distribution system: $5,250,000
Air-conditioning: $1,000,000
Domestic Hot Water System: $750,000
Structural & Seismic Code: $3,100,000
Asbestos removal: $150,000
Finishes Upgrade / Repair: $4:200,000
Total $29,670,000
Is all that necessary? I don’t know if wider halls are a necessity, but I’ll grant that the building may have outlasted it’s usefulness.

The thing is, grade realignment may have many drivers but all day kindergarten was cited as one of the driving forces behind that. If all day kindergarten wasn’t part of the “requirement” how would this plan look different?

Finally, since reading your reply, I’ve tried to find research on how how having 9th-12th grades in the same building for high school are more beneficial than 10th-12th. I grew up in 9-12 school, so that seems “normal” to me but I can’t find any research that bares it out. There are lots of studies on the benefits of 7th-12th, and K-12th schools but not much on 9th-12th (or 10th-12th). Perhaps these are so common, little research is done.

Anyhow, thank you again for commenting and providing your input.

Shirin Spangenberg

Wow, I really disagree with this article. I think full day kindergarten would be good for our kids.
I do agree that the way they want to reassign the schools is problematic. I think that Julie makes a good point about the elementary school kids and the secondary school kids being in the same school is not a good system for a multitude of reasons.
I have not been privy to the information that the school board has, but I think there could be other approaches to our growing problems.
One suggestion that I have hear, and that I like, is the elementary kids being at their elementary all the way through elementary. K-6 at the same school. A lot of kids have a hard time with the transition of switching schools at this early of an age, the format of going from one class to another, feeling so far away from home, breaking up the community they have created in elementary and the overall newness of it.
There seems to be enough room at each of the elementary schools for additional classrooms for the new kidergarten and first grade classes. Some playgrounds would need to be moved or reduced, but that is the price of a growing community.
This would also eliminate the need for additional buses to and from Ecker. If you look at it almost every kid in 5th and 6th grade will be bused, because there are not many residences close to Ecker. This would also reduce travel time and be friendlier to our planet.
I know this could cost more, but ultimately it could cost a lot less.
I would like to see some alternate planning that takes a look at our long term needs not this seemingly short sighted approach.
Thanks, Shirin Spangenberg
concerned parent and resident of Park City



Thanks for your comments.

I think your idea about 6th graders going back into the elementary school is interesting. One of the concepts that the school’s Master Planning Committee talked about a lot was the idea of limiting transitions between schools. Depending on how the school board’s design committee configures Ecker Hill we may still get 1 less transition through this plan (i.e, elementary to Ecker Hill to high school), which seems to have many benefits. Your plan could for sure achieve that (K-6, 7-8, 9-12).

Thanks for sharing your ideas.

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