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The Kids are Alright: Why we never want to hear about the SAGE test again

The Park Record headline screams:

We especially like the chart’s title: “Park City Schools Report Card 2017”. This must be official!

Wow, did a virus invade and destroy the childrens’ brains at Treasure Mountain. It must have because the same kids who were getting B’s at Ecker Hill and C’s at Treasure Mountain last year are now getting F’s. There must have also been huge teacher turnover in order for the education to have fallen so far so fast. There must be a fundamental issue with education in Park City that we need to solve today!

Or it’s all just bullsh*t.

We’ll take the latter.

SAGE is a standardized test given to Utah students since 2013. The Utah State Board of Education mandates that schools provide this test to students annually. The results of the test can be used by teachers and administrators to help individual students and to judge academic growth. The results are then used to label a school with a grade (A-F). For Park City High, SAGE forms part of the grade. For all other schools in our district, SAGE results determine the entire grade.

So, slapping Treasure Mountain with an F simply means it’s SAGE tests weren’t great. That must mean something right? Let’s look at the scores of the best high school in Utah according to US News and World Report. That would be Karl G Maeser Preparatory Academy. What are their SAGE scores:

  • 51% of students are proficient are language arts
  • 59% percent are proficient in math
  • 53% percent in science

What about the number two high school in Utah, Park City High? 51% proficient in language arts, 51% in math, and 53% in science.

If either of these scores were indicative of a “Report Card,” as the Park Record calls it, then the entire staff and administration of both Karl Maeser and Park City should probably be let go. The better question is do you think our students are a bunch of dumb-ass*s? Probably not. Do you think our teachers are a bunch of know-nothings that can’t educate anyone out of a bag? Probably not.

So, why are test scores so low?

Former Alpine School District Board of Education member Brian Halladay would likely tell you that the company that designs the SAGE test isn’t qualified. In a 2015 email to parents, Halladay says that the SAGE test was designed and created by AIR, “one of the world’s largest social and behavioral research companies” and not by teachers or educators. He recommended that parents opt out of the test.

That leads to the second problem with judging schools based on SAGE scores… kids opt out. In Park City 21% of kids opt out. Do we know if the best-test-taking-kids are the ones opting out? No, but it makes sense.

The third-reason why test scores may be low is that some students don’t take it seriously. According to the Park Record article, Park City District Spokeperson Mindy Colton says that kids are “sabotaging” the test scores by finishing too quickly or drawing on the back of tests. This isn’t new, though. A report we read talks about students in 2004 in New Mexico that like to make Christmas Trees and Battleships out of the answer bubbles. If kids don’t find the value in it, they aren’t going to waste time or effort.

So what is the SAGE test good for? Absolutely nothing. It’s good for a student who wants to use it, in cooperation with their teachers and parents, to improve parts of their education (the PCSD also uses the Galileo tests for this purpose). It’s not a referendum on our teachers. It’s not a a final grade for our schools. It’s not an indication of educational success of our district.

In our opinion, the worst thing parents could do is go to the Park City School District and demand that we are #1 in SAGE tests. Please do not email TMJH Principal Emily Sutherland and demand action. The outcome of that will be that the school district will be pressured to improve SAGE results. How do you do that? You teach to the standardized test.

Is that what we want?

This isn’t to say that Park City’s education is perfect. It’s true that our kids are going to be competing against kids from states that spend more on education. It’s true that students in Korea spend day and night at school in order succeed later in life. It’s true that almost every school district wants to achieve the results of Finland. It’s true that Park City still has an achievement gap related to English language learners.

However, the grades assigned to schools based on SAGE scores isn’t going to make any difference with any of that.

To be fair, we at the Park Rag have brought up SAGE scores in the past. We’d like to think we have a better perspective now. You’ll likely never read another article on the Park Rag correlating SAGE scores with our children’s education.

We also hope we never have to read another article in the Park Record that cites the results of SAGE testing. We hope we never have to read the school district getting defensive about the scores of a standardized test. It’s meaningless in the aggregate. We believe it has little to no influence on the whether a child gets a good education in Park City.

We hope instead our parents, schools, and media will continue to focus on providing a quality education to all students. That, and not SAGE, is what has the greatest potential to provide a superior educational experience to our kids.



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