Should I Opt My Child Out of the New End of Year Testing? or Is SAGE of the Devil?

TestsheetThe past few weeks I have received a lot of inquiries about Utah’s new end of year testing. Prior to this year, students were given the CRTs, this year Utah has moved to a computer adaptive testing model called SAGE. SAGE testing is set up so that if a student is answering questions correctly, the questions become more difficult, and vise versa. The tests are based on the new Utah Core standards, and as everyone knows, there is a lot of confusion, emotion, and opinions about those new standards.

The new battle cry among anti-Common Core activists is to opt your child out of the SAGE testing.  But should you?

First, identify your concerns.

Are you concerned because high stakes testing gives your child anxiety?

Then, this testing is nothing new.  High stakes testing has been a part of education since long before your child entered school. If this anxiety is to a point of legitimate concern, then as the parent you should always be in tune with what is best for your child emotionally.  But maybe take a minute to evaluate if their anxiety is a reflection of yours.

Are you concerned because of what the questions on the test may be?

The SAGE test has followed an interesting journey. Originally Utah belonged to an assessment consortium, but due to concerns from parents they pulled out.  Instead Utah created their own test in conjunction with AIR, a company which also does behavioral testing.  This raised red flags with some parents, and to alleviate those concerns a committee of parents was created to read and review EVERY TEST QUESTION that any student may see.   A member of that committee posted about her experience here.

The parent review committee purposely contained many who have vocally opposed the adoption of the Common Core Standards.  The Deseret News wrote about the committee’s findings here.  Committee members were quoted as believing the test was free from political agenda and that they believed their feedback was taken seriously.

Second, evaluate ramifications, real or imagined.

It is not the end of the world for your child to not take the SAGE test.  It’s not.  It is also not the end of the world for them to take it.  Think clearly about the logical consequences for your child taking or not taking the test.

If your child DOES NOT take the test, they will be counted on federal records as non-proficient. They have to count them this way.  How can they count them as proficient on a test they did not take?  But does it matter?  Does it really mean your child is non-proficient?  Of course not. As far as state records go, your child will be counted not as proficient or as non-proficient, they will simply just be non-existent on the records.

Your child’s teacher has a very good idea at this point in the school year where they are at academically.  The difficulty may come next year when your child will have a new teacher who will not have the benefit of reviewing their end of year scores.

Please be aware that schools do receive grades based on the results of these end of year tests.  Also, teachers will eventually be evaluated based on the results from their students.   These are two realities the legislature has given us based on a very vocal group of parents demanding ‘accountability’.

If your child DOES take the test, your life will pretty much be the same as it was last year when they took the CRTs.  They will be reminded to eat a good breakfast and get an adequate night’s sleep before the test.  On the day of the test their regular school schedule will be disrupted as they file into the computer lab to do the exams.  Next year your child’s teacher will have the benefit of knowing where your child is at, and you will also receive their scores.

If there is a question that asks your student to write an essay based on a satirical passage that argues video games are better than books, I sincerely doubt they will leave the test with years of you telling them to “get off the Wii and go read a book” erased from their memories and their entire value systems reset. Seriously people.

Finally, a last few DO’s and DON’Ts

DO go talk to your child’s teacher and principal about SAGE and get their thoughts and opinions.

DO learn more and do a little critical thinking of your own.  (Visit both the Utahns Against the Common Core’s site as well as the SAGE information portal created by the Utah State Office of Education.)

DO read this fabulous article by Benjamin Wood at the Deseret News on the new adaptive testing.

DO realize teachers can better target their lesson plans and teaching strategies when they can provide data driven instruction and they know what concepts the students’ have grasped, and which ones they are still struggling with.  This type of instruction requires assessments.

DON’T tell your child to take pictures of their test (that compromises the test, costs taxpayer money, and is ILLEGAL).

DON’T freak out.  Everyone should take a deep breath.  Opt them out, leave them in, whatever.  It’s going to be okay. Really, it is.

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