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Charter schools match state performance on SAGE

First Published      Last Updated Oct 28 2014 09:06 am

SAGE tests show proficiency in math, science and English varies widely depending on students’ prevailing background.

Like their traditional public school peers, students at Utah's charter schools struggled to reach new performance benchmarks in math, science and English.

Of the 89 charter schools listed in SAGE testing data released Monday by the Utah Office of Education, 34 had proficiency rates higher than the state average in all three test subjects, 36 were below the state average in all subjects and 19 were both above and below the state average, depending on individual test subjects.

But beyond the aggregate data, many charter schools excelled while others lagged.

At Salt Lake City's Utah International Charter School, just 3.8 percent of students scored proficiently in English and fewer than 2 percent scored proficiently in math and science.

"Basically I had zero to two kids in each grade level in each test who got a passing score," Utah International Charter School Principal Angela Rowland said. "It's hard to see your school's test scores at the bottom."

The SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence) test, taken by students for the first time last spring, uses a computerized format that adapts in difficulty to individual test-takers and frequently asks students to reason through questions without providing multiple-choice answers. It is aligned with the state's new math and English standards, which are designed to measure college and career readiness.

Educators say the test creates a higher level of expectation. One state official compared the test to placing hurdles in the pathway of a runner.

Rowland said SAGE is a better test than Utah's previous year-end assessment, the Criterion-Referenced Test. But she said SAGE is difficult for students who are not native English speakers or recent immigrants to the United States, which describes most of the student body at Utah International in South Salt Lake.

"The SAGE test is not designed for English learners," she said. "It's designed for kids who were born and raised here."

She said one question asked students to read contrasting articles about the management of bison and write an argumentative essay. The students would have done better if they knew what bison were, Rowland said, but she was not permitted to explain the word to them.

"I'm sure [SAGE designers] worked hard to get cultural bias out, but you just can't get it out," she said. "You just can't."

Charter schools receive public funds, but are overseen by a governing board rather than elected school board members. Charters also are allowed to deviate from conventional school curriculum, for example, teaching from the Founding Fathers' writings or based on the Socratic method. Charter school advocates argue that the independent schools are able to foster innovation and respond to the needs of underserved students by maintaining autonomy.

Despite that innovation, Monday's test results show many charter school students' mastery of core subjects was similar to that of their peers at traditional public schools.

Students at Timpanogos Academy charter school in Lindon tested at proficiency rates of 35.8 percent in English, 53.1 percent in math and 32.2 percent in science, on average. At Rocky Mountain Elementary four blocks away, 51.3 percent of students scored proficiently on English, with 46.4 percent proficient in math and 43.4 percent proficient in science.

In Draper, Summit Academy charter school students earned proficiency rates of 58.6 percent in English, 58.9 percent in math and 53.3 percent in science compared to rates of 62.4 percent, 58.9 percent and 53.6 percent, respectively, at Draper Elementary about a mile away.

Several charter schools posted much higher scores.

More than three-fourths, 79.9 percent, of students at Northern Utah Academy for Math, Engineering & Science (NUAMES) in Layton tested proficient in science — the highest single subject score among the state's charter schools.

At the same time, several charter schools posted single-digit proficiency rates in at least one subject, including the Utah International Charter School, Rose Park's Pacific Heritage Academy and the Utah Career Path High School in Kaysville. Even more posted proficiency rates in the teens.

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Charter Schools: The highs and the lows

On average, 41.7 percent of Utah students tested proficient in language arts, 38.7 mastered grade-level math concepts, and 43.7 were proficient in science. These are the high and low scores for the state’s charter schools in individual subjects.

Top 10 Individual Scores

(Percent of students proficient)

Northern Utah Academy for Math, Engineering & Science (NUAMES), Science, 79.9%

Utah County Academy of Science (UCAS), Science, 76.3%

Success Academy, Science, 75.7%

Northern Utah Academy for Math, Engineering & Science, Language Arts, 75.6%

Intech Collegiate High School, Language Arts, 75.2%

Success Academy, Mathematics, 71.7%

George Washington Academy, Mathematics, 71.5%

Utah County Academy of Science (UCAS), Language Arts, 70.9%

Intech Collegiate High School, Science, 69.2%

John Hancock Charter School, Mathematics, 66.3%

Bottom 10 Individual Scores

(Percent of students proficient)

Utah International Charter School, Science, 2% or lower

Utah International Charter School, Mathematics, 2% or lower

Utah International Charter School, Language Arts, 3.8% or lower

Utah Career Path High School, Mathematics, 5.1%

Pacific Heritage Academy, Mathematics, 8.1%

Uintah River High School, Mathematics, 10% or lower

Paradigm High School, Mathematics, 11% or lower

Uintah River High School, Science, 11-19%

Uintah River High School, Language Arts, 11-19%

Pinnacle Canyon Academy, Mathematics, 12.5%

Summit Academy High School, Mathematics, 12.5%

*A range of scores is given when there are so few students in a class that individual scores could be identified. › XX