Proficiency of test scores down at majority of Sanpete schools
By Linda Petersen
Dec. 21, 2017
State testing scores in both school districts in the county are mainly down this year, compared to last year.
Students in third grade through 12th grade are tested each year on their proficiency in language arts, math and science in the State Board of Education’s SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence) test.
In South Sanpete School District this year, test scores are higher than state averages. However, they did dip slightly across the board from last year.
Scores in South Sanpete School District were an exact match with the state average of 44 percent in language arts.
Students scored 49 percent in math; the state score was 46 percent.
In science the district students’ score was 53, significantly higher than the state average of 48 percent.
Superintendent Kent Larsen said it has been a challenge for students and parents to adjust to the new, more-difficult SAGE test which was introduced in 2014.
With the previous test, the Criterion Reference Test, students were used to receiving scores in the 80 and 90 percentiles.
“It’s been a hard thing for our teachers and students to understand a score in the high 50s is still a high score,” Larsen said.
Since all state-mandated tests are optional, some families are choosing not to have their children tested and formally opt out. In North Sanpete, that number is about 7 percent.
Larsen said a phenomenon they’ve noticed in the district is that most of the time it is stronger students that opt out, which can skew the data.
So, he said, “We use SAGE for what it’s worth.”
Larsen likes the test’s diagnostics which allow educators to log in and download very specific information, permitting them to see trends, to see which areas teachers may be struggling with and to set goals and focus professional improvement on making positive changes in those areas.
Larsen said in his school district they have a three-pronged approach with testing as just one of the prongs. The other areas are college readiness and an educational approach which encourages students to get everything out of school they can.
Placing testing in that perspective gives educators, parents and students a more accurate picture of what is going on in the classroom and in a child’s learning, he said.
Larsen cites research that indicates changing a school’s culture to be more united and supportive of learning can result in up to a 20-percent increase in student scores.
Larsen said the slight drop in scores this year is reflective of a statewide drop, particularly in language arts where the state changed the test’s assessment style from a manual assessment to a computer assessment.
Better funding options and a statewide focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) have given teachers greater access to resources to help engage students in learning in those particular subjects which have likely led to increased science scores, he said.
In North Sanpete School District, scores have increased and decreased over last year.
Students scored 39 percent in language arts; the state average is 44.
In math, they scored 45 percent in math, and the state average is 46.
The district’s students scored 43 percent in science, while the state average is 48.
In this year’s scores compared to last year’s, scores went up 1 percent in language arts (from 38 percent), down 3 percent in math (from 42 percent) and down 2 percent in science (from 41 percent).
Superintendent Sam Ray is pleased with the results.
“We’ve been working hard with our grade level and subject area teacher teams to identify ways to improve student learning, and this is an indication it is paying off,” he said.
Like Larsen, Ray says SAGE testing is a good diagnostic instrument in helping teachers formulate learning objectives.
However, he is concerned that many students do not test as well as might be expected. Even though many students in his district do not formally opt out, some do not take the test seriously and do not try very hard, he said.
Since SAGE scores are not figured into a student’s grade, “they can think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter to me so I’m not going to try very hard,’” he said.
If teachers were able to use SAGE as an end-of-year exam, it would be a more valuable use of students’ time, Ray said.
Currently, state law does not allow such tests to be used in that way, although Ray says the State Board of Education is looking to provide student incentives that would work within the legal framework.
Regardless, Ray says one of the most important skills a student can develop is that of test taking. No matter what a student does later in life, he or she is likely to encounter tests along the way, he said.
Ray says because of the limitations in working with SAGE, in North Sanpete School District at the high school level they put more focus on the ACT test than on SAGE.