Park City School District will start offering new standardized tests

(Bubba Brown/Park Record)

As early as next week, students in the Park City School District will be taking the state’s new standardized tests, RISE and Utah Aspire Plus.

The two tests are replacing the previous standardized exam called SAGE, which had high opt-out rates among students in Park City and around the state. The district hopes that students and families see the value of the new tests and decide to take the tests this year instead of opting out.

Andrew Frink, director of technology and assessment for the district, said the Utah Aspire Plus test, which will be given to ninth- and 10th-grade students, is a good practice test for college readiness assessments such as the ACT.

The Utah Aspire Plus test uses questions from the exam ACT Aspire and from Utah’s ninth- and 10th-grade assessment items. Students who take the exam will receive a predictive score for the ACT.

If we can all take this seriously, this becomes a really useful tool for us all to help understand what our students know, and help them understand what they know and what areas they can improve on,”Andrew Frink,Park City School District director of assessments

Frink said the schools are also distributing the tests in a similar way to the ACT so students can get used to the testing style. Ninth- and 10th-graders will spend a day taking the test rather than doing sections of the test over multiple days. Eighth-graders at Treasure Mountain Junior High will also take the RISE test in one day to simulate the ACT exam.

“It gives the students a really good practice run-through,” he said. “We all know part of just getting through testing is getting used to that experience, what it’s like to sit down for those long blocks of time and go through it. I think that’s the real plus for students.”

The RISE test is made up of questions from the Utah item bank, which was developed by Utah teachers and was the same question bank used for the SAGE test. The interface and appearance of the test will be different. Students will be able to skip questions in a given section and go back to them, for example. That was not possible with the SAGE test.

Frink also said the test has better reports for students and teachers, and teachers have the option of adding pre-tests at the beginning of the year or end-of-level tests called benchmarks throughout the year. The reports from the test would provide information to help teachers adjust their lessons to ensure students are proficient in the given subject.

He expects the district will implement these additional stages of the exam in the next few years. He said many of the teachers are eager to utilize the new tests in their classrooms.

“As the teachers work in teams, they have a nice standard data point,” he said.

In the past, the district has said that not enough students took the SAGE exam for the scores to be reliable. Frink and other school leaders hope that changes with the new exam.

“If we can all take this seriously, this becomes a really useful tool for us all to help understand what our students know, and help them understand what they know and what areas they can improve on,” he said.

Park City School District has some of the highest opt-out rates for standardized exams in the state. The opt-out rate was close to 50 percent at Park City High School in 2017. The high opt-out rates have been controversial because the state uses the scores to evaluate a school’s performance and provide a letter grade. Park City schools with high opt-out rates have seen sinking school grades, such as the “F” grade Treasure Mountain Junior High received in 2017.

Opt-out rates have climbed throughout the state since a policy change in 2014 permitted parents to opt their kids out of the tests. During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers passed a law to incentivize students to take the state tests. Now, teachers can reward students who perform well on the tests by using their score as a replacement for a final exam from the teacher. Lawmakers hope to boost test participation with the new law.

Frink said no teachers will be rewarding students who take the RISE or Utah Aspire Plus exams this year, but they might in the future.

District leaders have previously said that parents opt their students out of the end-of-year exams because they do not believe the tests are valuable and they think there are too many tests at the schools.

Frink said the new tests appear to be more useful than the SAGE exam. He said students who do take the test should prepare accordingly and put forth an effort to do their best.

The tests are important, he said, because they are how the state holds schools accountable and ensures that students are learning the core standards. He said it is also a good tool for the district to see what teaching methods or programs are working and which ones are not.

Frink is also glad the state has a 10-year contract to use the exams, because he said it will add some consistency for the schools as they compare grades over the years. The previous SAGE exam was in use for five years.

“We’ll get a nice, steady dataset we will be able to work with going forward,” he said. “We are really hoping to be able to use these.”


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