SAGE scores sink in Park City as students drop test

Almost 50 percent of Park City High School students are opting out

Created by Carolyn Webber using Infogram

Nationwide, schools are required to test students in order to measure growth and learning over time, but when more than a quarter of the student population chooses not to take the test, those test scores are hard to evaluate.

The Utah State Board of Education announced last week that test scores for the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence dropped throughout the state of Utah, including in Park City and South Summit School Districts. Students are tested at the end of the year in three subjects: language arts, mathematics and science.

In the Park City School District, scores in language arts dropped from 53.7 to 51.4 percent, mathematics from 54.5 to 51.1 percent and science from 58.7 to 53.2 percent. Melinda Colton, spokesperson for the Park City School District, said these may seem low, but they are higher than the state’s scores of 43.6, 45.7 and 47.5 percent. But, the district does not take these scores into account anyway post-fifth grade because of high opt-out rates.

While schools are required by state law to test students using a standardized exam statewide, it is not mandatory.

“They are taking so many tests; there is testing fatigue and parents just don’t want them to have to take something that doesn’t really matter. So we, then, as a district, can’t really use it as a valid measurement for benchmarks,” Colton said.

Opt-out rates were at 47 percent this year at the high school, a nine point increase from last year’s 38 percent. The junior high and middle schools each had an opt-out rate of 26 percent. Since opt out rates are increasing in the entire state – they have risen from 3.1 percent to 5.9 percent in two years — the school board has discussed removing the tests from high school levels because the ACT is already administered.

In 2016, the Utah State Board of Education voted to discontinue SAGE testing for high school students, but state law required that at least some annual statewide assessment remain in place. Last August, the Utah board’s Standards and Assessment Committee voted three-to-one to continue SAGE testing while they continues to look for a replacement assessment program for the state.

The Park City School District, instead, uses benchmarking tests such as Galileo to determine student improvement. They are taken at the beginning, middle and end of the year. The district relies heavily on Galileo scores to measure improvements in individual students as well as schools, which continue to be high.

“We have several other measures to determine the growth of students,” Colton said. “We are at about 97 percent graduation rate. That’s highest in the state and in the top one percent in the country. Parents know that we have very qualified teachers and our students are learning and progressing.”

The South Summit School District also saw dips in its SAGE scores in language arts from 56.9 to 53 and science from 50.1 to 49.8 percent. In mathematics, they improved from 52.2 to 56.6 percent. Opt out rates for their schools are increasing as well, which has created indifference for many students, said Shad Sorenson, superintendent of South Summit School District.

“My worry is not the students that opt out, but the students that mentally opt out because now most of them are coming with the attitude that, this doesn’t count toward my grade, this doesn’t affect whether I go on to the next grade, and nobody looks at it to decide, so they don’t give it their best effort,” he said. “We have people that opt out, we have people that mentally opt out, and we have data that we just can’t trust.”

The district uses tests such as the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy for reading assessment in elementary and middle schools and the ACT EXPLORE for freshmen and sophomores.

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