About-face: PCSD changes course on SAGE tests
August 30, 2016
Park City ninth- and 10th-graders who were elated to hear they would no longer have to take the state-mandated SAGE tests at the end of the school year celebrated a bit too soon.
The Park City Board of Education in its public meeting last week rescinded its vote from earlier in August that eliminated SAGE tests for grades nine through 11. It then voted on a new motion, doing away with the tests only for 11th graders.
According to an explanation at the meeting from Superintendent Ember Conley and Tim McConnell, an associate superintendent, the board's about face was due to a misunderstanding surrounding the state's position on requiring that schools administer the SAGE tests.
Molly Miller, the district's community relations specialist, clarified in an interview that district leaders were under the impression that the state Legislature was going to give districts the power to forego SAGE tests for high school students at a special session this summer, in response to the high percentage of students who are opting out of those tests statewide.
However, the Legislature took no such action, meaning Park City Schools must still administer SAGE tests to be in compliance with the law, which requires third- through 11th-graders to take state assessments. The district was able to keep 11th-graders exempt from the testing because they take the ACT test, Miller said.
"It sounded like it was a done deal, but it was not," she said of a possible move from the Legislature. "The official action was not ever taken. A number of people … (had) the impression that it was good to go, that (districts) could opt out."
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The Board of Education first voted to eliminate SAGE testing for grades nine through 11 because a significant number of Park City students were not taking the assessments. Under Utah law, parents have the right to opt their children out of any state-mandated test.
The tests are used, among other things, in the "grades" the state doles out to schools each year. Conley expected the grades of Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Junior High to drop this year because of how many students opted out of SAGE testing in the spring, which essentially invalidated the results.
After the school board got rid of SAGE testing for older students, some worried that the move would keep PCHS from earning a place in national rankings of high schools, such as the U.S. News & World Report's annual list, which use state tests in their formulas. However, Conley explained at last week's meeting that the opt-out rate will drag down PCHS' SAGE tests scores enough to eliminate the school from consideration for the rankings anyway.
Multiple board members at the meeting expressed a desire to see PCHS earn its way back into the rankings. In the past, it has been listed as the top high school in the state, but has fallen out of the rankings in recent years because of its achievement gap. Tania Knauer, president of the school board, said attending a ranked high school can help students gain admittance into the top colleges in the country.
Miller said the district will launch a public awareness campaign this school year to educate parents about the importance of SAGE testing in the national ranking formulas. Students have complained about the length of the tests, which can take several hours to complete, and their timing — at the end of the school year, when many are already taking college entrance exams and finals for Advanced Placement classes. But the district will now ask students to make a personal sacrifice by taking the tests — the results of which carry little consequence for individual students — to benefit the student body as a whole.
"(The opt-out rate) takes us out of national rankings," Miller said. "And of course we want to be a nationally ranked school. We have an amazing educational program, and we want our students to be recognized for that. And we want our students to be accepted into whatever colleges they want to attend."
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