SALT LAKE CITY — Some high school juniors may not have to take Utah's year-end assessment, known as SAGE, starting next year.

That would be the result of a bill that gained early House approval Tuesday.

Late last year, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. Similar to its predecessor, the new law requires states to administer standardized assessments at the end of every school year. But schools are now only required to administer end-of-level tests once during grades nine through 12.

SAGE is given to Utah students in grades three through 11. But instead of SAGE, HB200 allows schools to use the ACT as a year-end test for 11th-graders, to whom the ACT is already administered statewide in preparation for college.

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said her bill is intended to offer additional flexibility to Utah's high schools.

"Up until now, we've had the heavy hand of the federal government, and they've loosened up their restrictions," Poulson said. "I think we can trust the districts who know how this has gone as far as administering the tests. This is just a choice for the districts, and they can assess the needs in their particular district."

State education leaders have raised concerns about how the legislation would affect Utah's school grading system, which is based on SAGE scores at each school.

Those implications aren't yet fully clear. But educators are already frustrated that students aren't always motivated to put forth an honest effort on SAGE when it doesn't have an impact on their grades and when it's their last year taking the test.

"It's hard to hold (teachers) accountable for that," said Steven Hirase, superintendent of the Murray School District. "So I believe that this legislation, at least for one grade, gives a school district the option to look at whether they feel those results are valid and should be applied for that teacher's growth (and) the school grade."

Student effort on SAGE has become a major source of concern for legislators and education leaders. Another bill sponsored by Poulson, HB201, which has not yet received a vote, would eliminate SAGE scores from teacher evaluations.

But lawmakers in the House Education Committee also considered HB164, which would allow teachers to apply SAGE to a student's grade — something that's not allowed under current law — to incentivize their full participation.

HB164, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, also preserves parents' rights to opt their children out of all forms of SAGE.

Powell's bill had official support from the Utah State Board of Education but vocal opposition from some parents who had general concerns with SAGE, though most parents who spoke against the bill Tuesday currently opt their children out of the test.

Some legislators worried that the bill would open up unfair treatment for students by striking language in the current statute, which states that teachers "may not reward a student for taking an assessment," such as SAGE.

"We tend to use our children in education for proxy punishment of parents, and I've seen that raising my kids in the public school system," said Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan. "So creating incentives for students to comply in a situation that they may have no control over is wholly inappropriate."

HB164 failed in a 6-7 committee vote. HB200 now awaits approval on the House floor.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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