PCSD Students Need To Opt-In Not Out On Standardized Tests

Jan 14, 2019

Credit PCSD

The State Board of Education will use a new school assessment test beginning this year. This means the SAGE test will no longer be used in Utah schools. Park City School District has had a very high Opt-Out rate with the assessment tests. It affects the overall grade of a school when high numbers of students don’t’ participate. Carolyn Murray has this:

 

In Utah, parents can decide if their children will take the statewide assessment tests. Park City School District Technology and Assessment Director, Drew Frink said Park City’s secondary schools have high opt-out rates. Treasure Mountain Junior High School received a failing grade in 2017, Frink said because so many students didn’t sit for the tests. They made progress increasing participation in 2018. He said the scores for last year showed improvement because the faculty and staff worked hard to encourage participation.

“And, unfortunately at our three secondary schools, we’ve had a fairly high level of opt-outs over the last couple of years. Ecker and Treasure were at about 25 percent and the high school last year was almost 50 percent. And, when you look at that from any kind of statistical standpoint that really makes those overall scores very difficult to consider representative.  And, we really believe that what happened last year at Treasure Mountain, it was between that and I think the fact that some students realized that if they didn’t take the test seriously, it didn’t matter to them. That’s where we wound up so the team at Treasure did a huge, great job last year to really boost the importance of the test, the importance for the students to take it seriously."

Due to work done by the school PTO, Administration and teachers, they cut the opt out rate in half to about 12 percent and this helped with school performance improvement.

As of this year, school grades will not be used with the end of year assessments. It changed last year due to a new science standard in grades six to eight. Frink said the state board of education contracted for 10 years with two new systems. Grades three through eight will use the RISE Test which have similar questions as the SAGE. The ninth and tenth grade testing will be modeled on the ACT.

Frink said having good, consistent data is important to make good instructional decisions.

"We’re beginning to get a feel for how it works. We have some elementary schools doing some initial benchmark testing right now, which gives us a chance to get a feel for how the questions work.  And, so far, it looks really good. The one I’m really excited about is the new 9/10 test. It’s called the Aspire Plus. And, that is directly related to ACT. And so, eventually, that will be predictive for students of their likely ACT scores.  So, we expect to see some of that prediction this year but if nothing else, it is excellent practice because it is the same sort of timed environment. So, I think for those ninth and tenth graders, it’s a great free way to get through that ACT experience before they have to take it for real."

Frink said the tests are based on the Utah Core Standards but because it’s new there is an adjustment period for students and teachers.

“The tests are all based on the Utah Core Standards which is what we’re teaching. So, we’re not trying to teach directly toward a test. We are doing some work, particularly in the elementary schools right now, beginning to play with some of the practice tests and the smaller benchmarks to get the students used to the system. This is also new for us as well. These are two new testing systems. No two systems work the same way so we’re learning right now, all the ins-and-outs. So, it will be a big lift this year just because it’s new. So, give us a year or so and we’ll be all settled and be able to do it efficiently."

The tests are not offered in Spanish and that impacts schools like McPolin where there are so many English Language Learners."

I know that Principal Edmiston at McPolin, he and his staff are incredibly dedicated and really believe in the work that they’re doing. They have a very diverse population. High levels of low-income students and English Language Learners.  But they’re really working to build a strong community. A point that he made to me once, in a discussion, was that when you look at our high school and all the good work they do there, particularly to graduate students, have people ready for college and careers, that’s not only a reflection of that high school staff but also of the whole system. Because, if the elementary schools weren’t doing their jobs, it would show through the whole system."

Frink said the performance scores from McPolin are not where they would like but points out it is a full Dual Language School and they focus on building community.

The Opt-Out will still be exercised by parents going forward but Frink hopes to enlighten parents to the importance of participation and of getting accurate assessments.

Test results can be found in a link to this story on KPCW.org.