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Canyons School District says state ed officials are targeting it

Published June 3, 2011 9:52 pm

Education • Utah schools must use tests approved by the state.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Canyons School District officials are protesting changes to a state education rule, saying they target the district, which has tussled with state education officials in recent months over a reading test.

The rule, which was officially approved Friday, prohibits schools from using assessments not approved by the state Office of Education (USOE). It also specifies that districts must administer required tests and cannot submit "falsified data." Rule violations could result in disciplinary action for educators.

Canyons Superintendent David Doty wrote a letter to State Superintendent Larry Shumway and state school board Chairwoman Debra Roberts on Friday criticizing the rule, among other things.

In the letter, Doty said the rule would "literally require every teacher in all districts to submit every classroom test, quiz, chapter exam and any other type of teacher-designated assessment" to state education officials for approval.

"Not only is such a mandate infeasible, it is disrespectful of professional teachers and unnecessary in light of recent disagreements between our district and USOE," Doty wrote. "We believe this provision targets our district because of recent public statements made by USOE staff that accuse the district of refusing to comply with the law and falsifying test data."

Roberts, however, said Friday the rule would not require teachers to run all tests and quizzes by state leaders, instead applying only to assessments that fall under state accountability requirements. And she said the overall rule may have been spurred by the Canyons situation, but it is directed toward the whole state.

"When situations arise out there and you look at a situation, you say, 'Oh, hmm, is this a problem that could evolve to be a statewide problem?' Then you have to react and look at that from a statewide perspective," Roberts said.

In his letter, Doty also objected to language in two other rules — given preliminary approval by the state board Friday — that relate to required reading assessments for early grades. Doty said all three rules are "unnecessarily rigid" and should be written to comply with state law and give districts appropriate flexibility.

The disagreement between Canyons and the state office started several months ago after the state office realized Canyons did not give a required reading test, called the DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency test, but instead gave a test called AIMSweb. Canyons submitted the AIMSweb results to the state office in place of the DIBELS results.

State office officials accused Canyons of misrepresenting its results and violating state rule. The state office then erased Canyons' early grades reading results from the statewide report. In turn, Doty accused the state office of trying to discredit the district, saying AIMSweb tests the same material as DIBELS but better meets Canyons' needs. Doty said the state office overstepped its authority in attempting to require a specific test.

State school board member David Crandall met with Doty in recent weeks to discuss the issue and said he felt good about that meeting. He said there is a difference of opinion, but the state board and Canyons' ultimate goals are the same: to make sure young students are reading on grade level and notify their parents if they are not.

When asked whether Canyons would give DIBELS next school year, Canyons District spokesman Jeff Haney responded with a statement: "If or when the state board approves a valid rule that mandates a specific instrument other than AIMSweb, we will seek a waiver to that rule. If we do not receive a waiver then we will seek a legislative remedy."

In his letter, Doty said Canyons supports the law requiring districts to notify parents by halfway through the school year if their first-, second- or third-graders are reading below grade level as determined by "multiple assessments." And he reiterated the reasons Canyons should be allowed to use AIMSweb to fulfill that law.

Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent, has said all districts must give at least one common assessment to make comparisons fair, as various assessments can define reading on grade level differently. Hales also has said USOE chose DIBELS as that common assessment, partly because many districts and charter schools were already using it.

The board also gave preliminary approval to a rule Friday that would make it clearer that the state superintendent may withhold state dollars from districts that fail to provide required data or reports.