SAGE exam ends, Park City officials doubtful it will reduce opt outs
The Utah State Board of Education announces it will not be renewing the contract
The contract for the SAGE exam is expiring in 2018, and the Utah State Board of Education decided that it will not renew it. But, Park City officials said the new test will likely not change how parents and students view statewide exams.
The Board announced in a press release on Oct. 13 that it will be replacing its former testing vendor, American Institutes for Research, with Questar Assessment Inc. The five-year contract will provide computer-adaptive tests for Utah students between third and eighth grade. The previous assessment, SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence), tested students from third to 11th grade.
Mark Peterson, spokesperson for the Board, said officials are still considering options for grades nine through 11, and pre-ACT or -SAT tests, such as ASPIRE and the PSAT, are not out of the running.
Park City School District is notorious for having some of the highest opt-out rates for the SAGE exam in the state, with Park City High School at 47 percent and Ecker Hill Middle School and Treasure Mountain Junior High both at 26 percent.
Kathleen Einhorn, associate superintendent for teaching, learning and technology for the Park City School District, said the change might affect opt-out rates at the high school, but it will likely not alter parents’ opinions about statewide tests.
Opting out does not affect students’ grades, but it does affect the school district’s school grades, which are released by the Utah State Board of Education every year. As student opt out rates have risen, school grades have dropped.
“The test itself isn’t the problem” she said. “We are a parent-right state, and we have the highest opt-out rate in the state.”
Parents have been allowed to opt out their children since a Utah law passed in 2014 that permitted them to do so. Parents often say their kids suffer from testing fatigue at the end of the year, Einhorn said, so they do not see the exams as necessary.
The result is the school grades reflect a poor representation of the district, Einhorn said.
“The problem is the ability to opt out,” she said. “Which has caused our schools, from an outsider standpoint, to look like we have a poor school system.”
She said that the Questar test is similar to SAGE in many ways — it measures student achievement and reasoning, it is given at the end of the school year and parents are still able to opt out – so there will likely be little change to how the new exam is viewed in the community.
“We are not anticipating a big change because, even though the term SAGE had a lot of negative connotations, especially with parents, the amount of assessment is what they are concerned about,” Einhorn said.
The Utah State Board of Education’s contract with the new vendor, which costs $30 million, includes a provision that every test question currently used in SAGE may possibly be used in the new assessment under Questar. The Board can also work with Questar to create additional questions, according to the release.
Assessments will include tests for English language arts and mathematics for grades three through eight, science for grades four through eight and writing for grades five through eight, according to the release.
Though several parents doubted Park City School District when on Nov. 9 officials announced the two toxic dirt piles outside Treasure Mountain Junior High School would be removed within a few days of Dec. 18, the district has reinforced its vow late Friday.
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