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Kudos to the Park City School District

“We’re back baby!”

Or so you could imagine the elation from Park City School District Administrators on Park City’s recent ranking in US News’ top High Schools. No longer relegated to unranked status, Park City High School is now ranked 2nd in Utah and 418th nationwide.

Earlier this year we had written Why we care and don’t care about Park City School Rankings. We said we don’t care “because we have a district that seems to educate children well. We have good teachers. We have small class sizes (our student to teacher ratio is 19:1 while Skyline’s is 25:1 for instance). Whether we are ranked or not, it doesn’t change that.” We said we do care because the rankings factor in whether we educate ALL children — especially English Language Learners and disadvantaged students.

What these ranking tell us is that in 2014 and 2015 the school district did pretty well, because that’s where this year’s ranking come from. Even more, it tells you that starting in the 2011-2012 school year things were getting better. (Wow, that’s a long time ago). 

Because US News doesn’t publish detailed data, it’s hard to get into details. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the SAGE results during this same time period (2014-2015):

  • 24% of English Language Learners (ELL) were proficient in Language Arts in Grade 3 (that’s one of the better ones)
  • 23% of economically disadvantaged kids were proficient in science in 5th grade
  • 4% of ELLs were proficient in language in 7th grade
  • 0% of ELLS were proficient in language in 8th grade
  • 14% of disadvantaged kids were proficient in math in grade 5
  • 11% of ELLs were proficient in language in. 5th grade
  • 24% of Economically disadvantaged students were proficient in language in 6th grade

So, we’re not exactly sure we want to be celebrating that.

That said, for those who crucified our Superintendent for falling out of the rankings, she had been vindicated. The rankings are coming around. Again, the rankings are a couple of years behind. However, logic would dictate that next year’s rankings (based on 2015-2 016) would be even better due to dual immersion efforts. So, if you care about rankings, you will likely be happy for the next few years.

Since we don’t, what we really hope is that our school district continues to work to provide a quality education for ALL our students. We’d really like to see our ELL and economically disadvantaged students on par with other students.

That would be a big win.

For now, we’ll congratulate our School District on working hard to meet one of its goals. Kudos.

Yet, there is a lot of work still to be done.




Abandon the kids in the middle. Push up the kids on the bottom. School ranking improved. Whoopie.


The “kids in the middle” in PC are the children of millionaires. They are hardly “abandoned”.


Public schools are intended to give *everyone* the education they need. If disadvantaged students are doing poorly (in PCSD’s case, even more poorly than would be expected), that’s a huge problem and well worth pulling resources from other students (who are generally doing awesome) to address.

Also, I’ll just mention that it’s too bad your comment is anonymous – since we can’t check to see if you were criticizing the district for not being ranked in years past. Use your name.


Not a single ELL 8th grader was proficient?!? How is that possible?

Agreed, if the SAGE results are any guide (and we’re interpreting them correctly), we have a lot of work to do. Why on earth Jeremy isn’t dual immersion *Spanish* I will never understand.


I would guess that rounding errors lead to the 0% of 8th graders stat. So have faith that 1 or 2 kids were actually proficient.

Not good.

You look at district wide that year and something like 55% of kids were proficient… that tells us that the criteria is hard. Still the discrepancy at every level between ELL/Disadvantaged and the entire population is big.


SAGE testing is meaningless other than rating students and ranking schools – they have no educational value. They don’t provide any information that can improve classroom instruction or student learning because neither students nor teachers can even SEE the questions to find out what students got wrong. Each year, the “failure” rate for ELL students is projected in advance of students taking the tests and is intentionally designed so that the vast majority of students, especially ELL students fail the test. Imagine if PCSD spent the many hours and resources they currently spend on prepping and taking discriminatory SAGE tests to promote and support opportunities for students who need extra help learning English and those that have learning gaps. The mission of the district should be to provide a quality education for all of our kids, not increasing test scores and (useless) school rankings.

Anonymous Teacher

A few things to consider, from a teacher who has graduate-level credentials in ESL instruction and working with students from marginalized communities:

1. Don’t confuse ESL with Latino (not to say that this write up does). That happens often in our district and other places around the country. A student could test as a student in ESL in 3rd grade, and then test-out of ESL services and not be in that same cohort for 8th grade. You can’t make linear assumptions about that cohort, and being Latino is not the same as being in ESL, although they are used synonymously in many instances.

1b. Students in ESL services are not homogenous. You may have an 8th grader in ESL who has only been in the U.S. for two years, and obviously they won’t be proficient (and we can’t expect them to be). They are measured the same and include the same indicators as a student in ESL services who started here in Kindergarten. While their scores may both be below proficient, it is key to remember that the score is complicated, misunderstood, and largely inaccurate. The latter student is a more critical case than the former in terms of our district’s ability to educate students learning English, because they have been in the district longer. Even so, their scores are labeled under the same cohort name. Digging into the data isn’t as helpful when the assessment is as flawed as SAGE.

2. It takes 7-10 years for a student’s cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) to reach that of native speakers under good academic conditions. So if a student begins at PCSD as a kindergartener and they have a family background exclusively in another language (often Spanish in PC) you can expect that under the best circumstances they will be proficient by 6th grade, and if not 6th grade then somewhere between 7th and 11th grade. Students who are new to the U.S. or begin schooling in PCSD later than Kindergarten and have not had successful language instruction would reach proficiency even later. In Utah, we have to test students receiving ESL services after one year in our schools; you can see how a student with a language background different from English is going to struggle for a long time before they reach proficiency, if they ever do.

3. Many, MANY students opted out of SAGE after the 2014-15 school year, because they recognized that SAGE is a flawed test that offers little indication of what students actually know. This means that, most likely, we will drop out of the rankings again, as so many students opted out the last few years since 2015 we likely do not have enough test scores to make our data relevant. Again, as much as this feels celebratory, it is based on flawed data (SAGE testing, achievement gaps that are really opportunity gaps, etc.) and most teachers don’t see these rankings as a true indicator of school success. Is it good PR? For sure. But for those of us who actually understand education, assessment, and pedagogy, the U.S. News and World Report is a joke ranking.

4. “We said we do care because the rankings factor in whether we educate ALL children — especially English Language Learners and disadvantaged students.” As outlined above, this is not necessarily true. We could drop out of the rankings because kids opt out of tests and still be IMPROVING how we instruct all students. Or, we could IMPROVE in the rankings because we focus more on test prep and test strategy, but that does not mean we are instructing students better. It is not a binary as mentioned in the quote, that either we 1) do better and rankings improve or 2) we don’t and rankings drop. It is not that simple when standardized assessment is a large portion of the ranking rubric.

This is not to offer gloom and doom on this news; just to temper the excitement over a ranking that means less to the teachers in the district than it does to the administration and media.



That’s extremely informative. Thanks for taking the time to offer some insight.


Wow ! This was great. I could not agree more. I’m also a teacher.


Administration Team members wrote to parents in the last few weeks:
“The SAGE test is actually quite helpful, and is far superior to any state tests we have administered in the past. The type of questions, and the format itself, enables us to determine students’ depth of knowledge and abilities to solve problems. This is vital information in our on-going curriculum planning process, as we endeavor to continually improve our practice.”

“It is really valuable for us as a district, as educators, and as a community to see how students are doing, how much they’ve learned, and where we can improve/boost classroom instruction. Also, because other students in the state will be taking the same assessment, we can compare how our students perform from year to year as well as compare growth and proficiency between various schools and student groups.”

“In addition, SAGE scores are considered in state and national school standings. If you are passionate about PCSD schools being ranked high in the state and in the country, your student needs to take the test so their scores can be included.”

Results from the SAGE test do not arrive at schools until late Fall of the following year. The option to opt out is allowed by the state. Colleges don’t look at SAGE scores. Our district uses Galileo, DIBELS, iReady, and classroom exams and quizzes. Not all at once. But how much is too much? Is there such a thing as assessment burnout for both teachers and students?


Results from the SAGE test do not arrive at schools until late Fall of the following year. – Not entirely true. I teach here and I already know all my students test scores but I do know that secondary teachers don’t get their scores so fast. That being said, I have no idea what questions they missed.

Our district uses Galileo, DIBELS, iReady, and classroom exams and quizzes. Not all at once. But how much is too much? Is there such a thing as assessment burnout for both teachers and students? – definitely YES. Way too much assessments. During the last 4 weeks of school we are doing all of them – SAGE, Galileo, DIBELS and iReady. iReady is completely useless. Galileo is only effective when given to inform your instruction which is not the case this year since it’s after SAGE. I would hate to be a kid in the classroom right now ….. and that’s sad.


What to make of an administration that uses US News and World Report methodology to run the district? I don’t even know anyone who has a subscription. Do you? The last time I even read the magazine was 25 yrs ago in a political science class.


The lack of a ranking in past years was often brought up by critics of the district. I agree that it’s mostly meaningless, but unless you were saying that back when the district was unranked (and you would care to put your name on your comment) then your comment doesn’t mean much.


I always find these conversations fascinating. As a father who had two daughters go from kindergarten through High School in the Park City district, I measure the success of the time they were in school to how well prepared they were for college (and life) and how they performed there. Both did well (one is now a nurse and one an engineer) attending high quality colleges. They were well prepared for college with great study habits and a base of knowledge that allowed them to excel in their studies.

For those that decide not to go to college (and there is NOTHING wrong with that) how well are the prepared to deal with life and the jobs they will have.

When we moved to PC 2O years ago after living in the valley for 10 years, the High School was ranked in the top 100 public schools. It has been number 2 (to West High School) for several years in Utah rankings. That is a BIG fall but I can say, we sure did not see a fall in the quality of the education for our daughters.

My question is when are we going to stop measuring irrelevant standings like US News and really begin to evaluate the success of our graduates. I believe this is the true measure of the success of a school district. In this world we are no longer competing against some high school in Salt Lake City or in Indiana. We compete against the world.

Rankings are meaningless if they are not prepared to enter that world.

My biggest challenge as I look at the school district now, since I still pay taxes, is that they are focused on the wrong things. New buildings do not make a better education (have you ever been to West High School?) It is the rigor of the curriculum, the quality of the lessons and the teachers and the leadership of the system the identifies a vision and leads the district to that. I see NONE of that in the current school system.


All of that is great, but the buildings/bond issue has nothing to do with teacher pay or academic rigor.

The bond money (should it pass this time) can’t be spent on anything but buildings, so the question is: do we want nicer/better facilities?


That is my exact point. We are focused on buildings, not the quality of the education.


If you don’t think they are focused on student success, you have not spent time in any of the local schools recently.

The facilities are a separate issue and bringing them up suggests that you feel the bond/tax issues are *detracting* from educational quality. That’s a valid point if it’s what you really believe, but it’s fair to always include the caveat that it’s a separate debate. At some point those buildings will have to be replaced/updated, and when/how to do so is a legitimate topic of discussion that can be separated from the teacher pay/ratio/test score stuff.


You said: It is the rigor of the curriculum, the quality of the lessons and the teachers and the leadership of the system the identifies a vision and leads the district to that. I see NONE of that in the current school system.

Yet your kids are not at school anymore. So how do you know that we don’t have quality teachers and rigorous curriculum ? Do you visit schools often?


Um, please re-read the discussion. I was stating my children had a good education at the school that prepared them well. My comment was about the current focus of the administration/board which seems to be more about buildings.

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