Guest editorial: No SAGE means no more national recognition
August 23, 2016
I recently read your article on the Park City School District’s decision to eliminate SAGE testing for older students. I know there are those that feel kids have too much testing nowadays, but the implications of this particular decision are far-reaching. This is because the SAGE results are a critical part of the screening criteria for the National High School Rankings. While these achievements might seem “nice to have,” these rankings can make a difference for everything from local real estate values to college admissions and scholarship dollars.
To be sure, we benefit from being in a smaller state and thus Utah colleges know PCSD’s reputation and the rankings do not really have tremendous significance in the near term (over the longer term that may not necessarily be the case). For colleges and universities outside of our state, however, the rankings are a statistic that succinctly positions PCHS.
At many competitive colleges, the admissions rate for students is a tough hurdle, often with less than 10% of applicants being accepted. But the acceptance rate based on High School attended is also quite severe; anecdotally, I know some Ivy League schools (and other comparable institutions) accept kids from maybe 20% of the High Schools that apply. The better High Schools will afford better opportunities for their students.
And to bring this point home, ask any realtor how schools impact real estate values.
Earlier this year, US News and World Report published their annual High School rankings. While PCHS used to regularly feature in these awards, the past several years we have been left out. But it should be noted that this year, we were on the cusp of making it. When I say “on the cusp”, I mean we were three kids (!) away from this distinction.
US News uses a four-step process to determine their rankings. The first two use a State’s Proficiency exam, and in the case of Utah, that is the SAGE tests. They use these tests because in order for a school to achieve a ranking, they feel it must be in the top tier within their own state, as the state measures schools. PCHS passes the first part of being in the upper echelon, but missed the second part which compares Disadvantaged Student performance (“Achievement Gap”) to the State average. Here we fell 1.5% below the State gap. (And 1.5% on a population of ~200 students works out to 3 kids.)
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The third step is graduation rate, and we have no problem with that.
Step Four is really the “heavy lifting” of the National Rankings and uses a “College Readiness Index” (CRI), which is based on both participation and pass rate of AP and IB exams. It is the CRI that determines the ultimate ranking, assuming a school passes the first three steps. Our CRI was good enough to be ranked 418th nationally and number two in the State of Utah, just behind Skyline HS.
The top 500 High Schools in the country were awarded the distinction of being a Gold Medal High School. The next ~2200 High Schools received a Silver Medal and then ~3,500 schools received a Bronze Medal. For the sake of perspective, Utah had only one Gold Medal High School (Skyline), 25 Silver Medal schools and 22 Bronze Medal schools.
PCHS, as mentioned, went unranked. I know that sounds crazy based on all the excellent work we’ve done to rank 418 in the nation on the College Readiness Index, but the criteria is what the criteria is. Had we reached proficiency on just three more SAGE assessments, PCHS would have been a Gold Medal High School. We were that close to national recognition.
But now with this decision to scrap SAGE, we may never be in the hunt again. It is a shame our Faculty and Students will be denied the opportunity to earn the National recognition they deserve.
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