Statewide SAGE exam to be replaced by two new tests
Next spring, students in Utah will be taking a new exam.
The Utah State Board of Education announced earlier this month that it has selected the Utah Aspire Plus test for ninth- and 10th-grade statewide assessments. Students in grades three through eight will take the RISE (Readiness. Improvement. Success. Empowerment.) test. The exams will replace the controversial SAGE tests, which the state used to test students between third and 11th grade beginning in 2013. The Board voted last year to not renew its contract with the vendor that developed the SAGE exam, American Institutes for Research.
Andrew Frink, director of technology and assessment for the Park City School District, said that the Utah Aspire Plus test will include a blend of questions from the ACT Aspire test and the current grade nine and 10 questions from SAGE.
He said that it is similar in structure and scoring to the ACT, which might be a “real selling point” to students who have previously chosen to not take the statewide exam.
“It is a great chance to practice for the ACT,” he said.
Younger students who take the RISE exam will also notice changes. One of the main differences between the SAGE and RISE tests is that RISE will be multistage adaptive, meaning that students will be able to go back to questions that they skipped, Frink said. With SAGE, students did not have that option because each question was determined by the answer the student provided on the previous question.
RISE will use similar methods, but the next set of questions will be determined by how the student answers a block of questions.
RISE will also only offer the writing portion to fifth and eighth grade students. Students will receive a separate score for that section, according to a press release. When SAGE was first offered, a writing portion was included in all of the grades. Last year, students in grades three through eight had a writing prompt and the score was included in the overall score.
The test will, however, incorporate questions from the same bank of questions used by SAGE. This will make it possible to maintain the trend data gathered from SAGE tests, Frink said. RISE and Utah Aspire Plus will also continue to be taken at the end of the school year.
He said that the continuity of the data is beneficial to the district and the state. The Utah Board of Education signed 10-year contracts with both the Questar Assessment Inc. for the RISE test and with Pearson for the Utah Aspire Plus test. He said that the longer contracts will help provide stability in the data. When SAGE was implemented five years ago, the contract was for only five years.
“A good assessment is critical for good education,” he said.
The change happens as opt-out rates in Park City for the SAGE exam continued to increase, with parents questioning the benefits of having their children participate in standardized testing. Utah law mandates annual testing, but parents are able to opt their children out from taking the statewide exam. The opt-out rate at Park City High School was 47 percent during the 2016-17 school year, a 9 percent increase from the previous year. Treasure Mountain Junior High and Ecker Hill Middle School had 26 percent opt-out rates.
The state’s opt-out rates have also been increasing. They jumped from 3.1 percent to 5.9 percent in two years.
Frink said that the opt-out rates from the 2017-18 school year have not yet been reported.
School officials have said in recent years that, when so many students choose to not take the exam, the district and state cannot use the results as a valid benchmark. The scores in Park City, they say, have often been artificially low, resulting in the district’s schools earning poor marks in annual state-assigned grades that are based off the tests.
“We struggled to help students to understand that there really was value with the SAGE test,” Frink said. “I’m hoping that now that we have a different model here, that we will be able to explain to them how useful this will be to them and to us.”
Frink said that some district employees will have to complete additional training over the summer and throughout the school year to prepare for the new exams, but he does not predict any major changes. He said that the Utah Aspire Plus test is administered in a similar way to the ACT.
Due to changes in leadership taking place in the district, he said that his goal is to keep the test changes smooth and as “stable as possible.”
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.