ACT Aspire will replace
SAGE for 9th, 10th graders
By Linda Petersen
Mar. 29, 2018
A change in state student testing is music to the ears of some local educators and administrators.
On March 16, the Utah State Board of Education announced that beginning next year, ninth and 10th graders will take the ACT Aspire test instead of the SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence) test. Younger grades will still take the SAGE test.
North Sanpete High School has already been using ACT Aspire to help students prepare for college.
“This is exactly what we’ve been preparing for,” North Sanpete School District Superintendent Sam Ray said. “ACT Aspire is a much better assessment of our students’ ability than the SAGE test.”
Ray said SAGE is a good exam, but “due to state policies, there is no incentive for students to even try.”
According to those policies, SAGE testing is not mandatory, and with parents’ permission, students can opt out. Test results also cannot be counted toward a student’s grade.
Ray said students often didn’t take the test very seriously, and they were getting whatever students felt like doing that day, not their best work.
“With the ACT and ACT Aspire, the students know they’re used to help them get into college. There’s little challenge to get them to try,” he said. “We feel it will be a much better measure of our students’ abilities.”
SAGE was originally intended as an assessment for third through 11th graders.
In 2016, lawmakers passed legislation allowing school districts a choice on whether to have 11th graders take the SAGE test. This year, both school districts passed on having juniors, who already have to take a state-mandated ACT test, do so.
While more reserved in his response, South Sanpete School District Superintendent Kent Larsen said implementation of Act Aspire over SAGE “probably is a pretty good idea, in my opinion.”
(Larsen said he had not heard from leadership about the change and so was reluctant to comment officially).
Larsen said when SAGE, a Utah-developed test, was introduced by the Department of Education, its objective was to make it more aligned with international testing of students. Initially, American and Utah students did not seem to measure up to their peers in other countries, he said.
“Their assessment was we don’t expect enough of our kids,” he said, “but the truth is, in the U.S., we test all kids. In other countries, many students are diverted to alternative schools where they are trained in blue-collar skills. So they’re really just testing the top 30 to 40 percent of kids.”
“SAGE was really hard at first. It was a step up for all Utah students, especially the elementary school students,” he said. “The standards themselves are good, but there were people who didn’t like SAGE who opted their kids out.”
“Once 7 to 10 percent of kids are opting out, the validity of the test goes away,” he added.
Larsen said while the emphasis on preparing for college is good, it is important that students who choose alternatives such as vocational college or training not be overlooked.
“There is a growing need for technical occupations,” he said. “The narrative is changing. It used to be that students that had bachelor’s versus associate degrees or certificates made more. That’s not necessarily true anymore.”
“We don’t want the emphasis to be solely on preparing kids for four-year universities. We want to push our kids to get everything out of school they can,” he said.
Going forward, younger grades will still take a SAGE-like test, according to Darin Nielsen, Utah assistant superintendent of student learning.
The state recently rebid the contract, and it has gone to a new vendor, Questar (not to be confused with the former utility company).
The test’s core was developed by Utah educators and is owned by the state, but with a new vendor, there will be a new portal or delivery system for the test. Additionally, there will probably be a name change, Nielsen said.
“The name implies things that are no longer true,” he said. “We may need to rebrand to provide clarity to those changes.”