The two Salt Lake elementary schools scheduled to close 18 months from now posted impressive scores on the 2001 Stanford Achievement Test.
Lowell Elementary third-graders — not counting those in the school's program for gifted students — scored in the 69th percentile, 13 points above their expected range and 3 percentile points higher than last year.
Deseret News graphic
SAT Results: Salt Lake City School District
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Rosslyn Heights third-graders achieved in the 73rd percentile, one point above expected range. The score is identical to the school's fall 2000 score.
The Salt Lake City Board of Education voted last June to close the two schools. In the months before, it had decided to close two elementaries east of I-15 for financial reasons and to better balance dwindling east- and burgeoning west-side enrollments. New schools will be built on the west side.
Test scores often seeped into the discussion about closing schools, something the district later deemed off-limits in the debate.
The district faces a lawsuit challenging the closures. And the Legislature's Audit Subcommittee agreed to examine school board procedures for closing schools following the uproar in Salt Lake City.
Principals of the two schools could not be reached for comment on test scores.
But school board member Karen Derrick called the test scores "gratifying."
"As to the issue of closure, it was never about scores," said Derrick, who, with colleague Kathy Black, lobbied the board to reconsider closing the schools they represent.
"If I were to make judgments on our schools that way, I would have to do just the reverse, and say those who aren't doing well ought to close. And as far as I'm concerned, those are the ones we need to work harder on."
The SAT is required of all third-, fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders under a Utah law intended to hold schools accountable for student achievement. It is intended to show how students compare to a national norm group.
Scores are expressed in percentiles, not percentages, and the national median is the 50th percentile. Scores in the 60th percentile and above are considered very good; those in the 40th, cause for concern.
Salt Lake District's scores must be read with caution.
First, district testing supervisor Joan Reynolds believes districtwide expected ranges were miscalculated by the state. Just six schoolwide total battery scores fell below expected ranges, and all were in third grade. But all but 11th-graders' districtwide scores were below expected range.
Also, the district's expected range for eighth-graders spans the 44th to the 58th percentile. But no individual school's expected range began at such a high number. The highest is Clayton Middle's at 39-64. Others begin at the 18th, 24th, 30th and 32nd percentiles.
Expected ranges are calculated using the numbers of students who qualify for free school lunch.
Reynolds plans to discuss concerns with state officials in January.
Also, the district last year inappropriately exempted 430 students learning English as a second language from taking the test, inflating scores for that year. The district, which received a warning letter from the state superintendent, said the problem stemmed from a miscommunication on test exemption rules.
Perhaps as a result, districtwide scores are down from last year but on par with scores in years before that.
But if you ask district director of research and evaluation Charles Hausman, the scores actually are going up, by 2 to 4 percentile points in the past five years.
Here's why: District demographics have changed in recent years. The number of district students living in poverty has gone from 48 percent to 58 percent since 1996, Reynolds said. Elementary students with limited English skills have risen from 27 percent to 37 percent between 1999 and 2001.
Those factors are known to affect test scores, and it's hard to see what's going on beyond demographics when they change so rapidly, Hausman said.
So he statistically extracted those changes over the past five years to get a better picture of student progress. And the trend is more up than down.
Test scores also have been further broken down to show progress for each student in the district. Hausman compiles the information in an extensive database that could be the only one of its kind in the state.
The district hopes such data gathering can help educators identify students who need help and target programs to meet their specific needs.
"The key for me is how do you use this information to better serve all kids," said Hausman, a former educational leadership and policy assistant professor at the University of Utah.
Adds Reynolds: "We're learning things about ourselves and what's happening in our schools. It's not (about) the test, but how you use it."