Paul Rolly: For Utah teachers, all that testing is cramping learning

By paul rolly

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: March 21, 2014 09:02AM
Updated: March 20, 2014 10:00PM
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Paul Rolly

Tension among teachers over the inordinate amount of standardized testing they are required to give students is steadily mounting.

Already under attack from right-wing legislators beholden to home-school lobbyists and other anti-public education special interests, many teachers have expressed frustration over the instruction time they lose to standardized testing.

The exams take away from preparation time, too, because teachers must grade some of the tests themselves.

All the while, the Legislature is pushing initiatives to grade teachers and schools based on student progress.

It’s a pit-and-pendulum quagmire as teachers see their instruction and preparation times reduced at the same time they are being graded on the performance of their students.

And if the education bureaucracy screws up, the responsibility falls on the teachers.

The old No Child Left Behind, with its burdensome testing, has been replaced by other exam measures, which teachers complain are just as bad.

Utah’s new standardized exam is the SAGE test, measuring performance in core subjects such as language arts and math. The test is different from last year’s Criterion-Referenced Test (CRT). Educators are unsure if the new test is harder or easier, and if student scores fall behind last year’s results, they fear that will factor into their evaluations even though the two exams don’t make for an apples-to-apples comparison.

Here’s a new kicker: The computer adaptive SAGE tests were not ready to launch when they were supposed to because of software-download problems. So testing for most of the state was pushed back by at least two weeks.

Now, it’s crunch time and schools are doing practice tests for the next several weeks before the real SAGE exams are given near the same time AP students are taking college entrance tests.

So in some schools, such as East High in the Salt Lake City School District and Skyline High in the Granite School District, the computer labs and library online access are closed to students for the rest of the school year because they will be tied up with all the testing.

According to sources, that affects hundreds of students who use those facilities for homework assignments and math study throughout the day.

But, hey, if those students fall behind, we’ll just blame the teachers.

Anybody home? The Utah Republican Party has been sending emails to supporters almost daily, letting them know the great changes it has made to neighborhood caucuses, which took place Thursday.

Chief among them: the preregistration feature made so easy by logging on to info@utgop.org and clicking on the designated link.

“If you register online, you don’t have to fill out the sign-in sheet. Isn’t that great!” boasted GOP State Chairman James Evans.

So eager Republicans rushed to the website Monday to preregister and avoid the hassle of doing so at the meeting.

Then? Nothing.

When they clicked on the site, they got: “error/null pages.”

Some tried for more than an hour.

The site was under construction Monday night, but was up and operating by Tuesday.

Not to be outdone • The Utah Democratic Party already faces challenges, given its less-than-lofty membership numbers.

But if the party had trouble getting hordes out to its neighborhood caucuses, it made things worse with its own technical gaff.

The party sent an email Thursday telling Democrats to attend their neighborhood caucuses “tonight.”

Oops.

The Democrats’ caucuses were Tuesday. Republicans held their meetings Thursday night.

Perhaps it was an invitation to spy on the opposition. Democratic State Chairman Jim Dabakis, though, said it was an honest goof.

“We screwed up,” he said. “We deserve” to be made fun of.

prolly@sltrib.com