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State School Board not canceling SAGE testing

The State School Board will not cancel SAGE tests this year despite demands from lawmakers to repeal the computer-adaptive assessment because of the burden placed on teachers and its controversial use in school accountability.
The State School Board will not cancel SAGE tests this year despite demands from lawmakers to repeal the computer-adaptive assessment because of the burden placed on teachers and its controversial use in school accountability.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's annual SAGE test will not be canceled this year, the State Board of Education decided Thursday.

The computer-adaptive test currently in its second year of administration has been the subject of heavy criticism from lawmakers, two of whom called for the test's suspension Saturday because of the "onerous" burden it places on teachers and students.

Sens. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said the test should be replaced with another assessment, such as the Northwest Evaluators Association testing system, until a less high-stakes and more accurate assessment could be adopted.

But state education leaders didn't yield to the senators' request to drop the assessment.

"The tests are going to be administered this spring," said David Crandall, chairman of the State School Board. "Just because a couple of senators sent out a press release doesn't mean we're changing. However, it's always important for us to (consider) that feedback."

Brad Smith, state superintendent of public instruction, said the test's implementation has had problems, but the Utah State Office of Education is working to improve the test and how it is administered.

"In terms of abandonment of the SAGE system, that does not seem reasonable or acceptable at this point," said Brad Smith, state superintendent of public instruction. "I would argue that it's better that we learn and improve while maintaining some continuity for some period of time than yet another assessment or another accountability system."

Osmond said that while the State School Board's decision wasn't unexpected, he hopes the board will consider options for next year as dialogue with lawmakers continues.

"It's not something you can turn on and off overnight," he said. "I encourage the board to look at the frequency of testing, the quality of our testing infrastructure, and make sure we're not putting undue pressure on our teachers and kids as we move forward."

Stephenson said there will be legislation this year to create a task force to look at doing away with SAGE, but it hasn't been introduced in committee. The House, however, has passed a resolution that asks state education leaders to conduct a study of Utah's current testing protocols and whether the amount of testing students are required to take could be reduced.

Smith said the resolution is "a reasonable request" and a task the Utah State Office of Education can accommodate.

Another bill sponsored by Osmond seeks to clarify current statute that allows parents to opt their children out of state-mandated tests, such as SAGE. SB204 would allow parents to exempt their children from "any summative, interim or formative test that is not locally developed," and "any test that is federally mandated or mandated by the state."

The State School Board is in the process of drafting a rule to consider the implications of the revised opt-out policy and to determine specifically which assessments would apply. The board is expected to discuss the rule in its March 6 meeting.

"This is attempting to state the parameters of parental authority, which is broad, (and) the opportunity for parents to choose not to have their children assessed, which is also broad," Smith said.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen