What did Utah kids think of new state tests?
Parents weighed in.
Teachers formed opinions.
Politicians had their say.
But now that school's out and end-of-year exams are over, what did kids think of the state's new SAGE tests?
Some students liked the exams better than the old Criterion Referenced Tests (CRTs) but many of those with whom The Salt Lake Tribune spoke panned the assessments.
"It didn't really reflect how smart people are because it was just so confusing," said Abby Morgan, who will be a junior at Olympus High this fall. "Everyone did really bad on it, unless you got lucky."
Most Utah students sat for hours in front of computers during the last months of school, taking the new tests in math, language arts and science. Their scores will not be available until this fall.
Unlike the old tests, SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence) exams are computer-adaptive, meaning they change in difficulty as students respond to questions. The idea behind the tests is to better pinpoint students' strengths and weaknesses, allowing teachers to better focus their instruction.
Test results won't affect students' grades, but they will play into the grades their schools get from the state.
"I didn't love it," said Jane Froerer, who will be a senior at Olympus High, "but it's a test, so I'm not going to be the biggest fan of it."
Beyond multiple choice • Unlike CRTs, the new tests are interactive. They're not just multiple choice something many students liked and others hated.
For example, a science question might ask students to manipulate a chart. In math, they might have to fill in the rest of an equation.
That interactivity was a hit with many students and a bomb with others.
"It was a little more entertaining than the CRTs," said recent Cottonwood High graduate Theresa Nielson, who took the physics SAGE exam. "It was more hands-on."
Maddie Liddell, who will be a junior at Olympus High, said the format meant "you actually get to be creative when you do it."
The flip side, of course, was there was no easy way to guess on many questions.
"You had to know your stuff to get it right," said Gus Stevens, who will be a junior at Cottonwood High.
Kayla Williams, who was a ninth-grader at Herriman's Copper Mountain Middle School this past school year, said the interactive questions were often difficult.
"Sometimes you had no idea what the equation was supposed to be," Williams said. "At least on multiple choice you have a better idea of what the answer is supposed to be."
Judy Park, state associate superintendent, said she's heard similar feedback some kids loved it while others missed the more straightforward ease of multiple choice.
"Our goal was to really do those higher-order thinking skills and the response I got from kids, it really did accomplish that," Park said.
Confusing writing? • Many students also criticized how the test was written. "They worded the questions really weirdly," said Kayla Hepner, who will be a senior at Olympus.
Dallin Bettilyon, who will be a junior at Olympus, had similar thoughts. "It was very confusing," he said. "The questions were worded poorly."
Isaac Nielson, who will be a junior at Cottonwood High, said, "The wording on some of the questions just didn't work."
Park said it appears some students were confused about what they were supposed to do on certain questions. State officials will look into that as they analyze the tests this summer, she said.
If they find, for example, that almost all students got a certain question wrong, they could opt not to count that question. On the other hand, if they find all students answered a particular question correctly, they might also decide to throw that question out, assuming it was too easy.
'A really different experience' • Other students slammed SAGE for testing them on things they say they never learned in class. The tests are based on new Common Core State Standards academic standards adopted by Utah and most other states in an attempt to better prepare kids for college and careers.
"I feel like a lot of the subjects on the tests were things we never covered," said Carly Roloff, who will be a senior at Olympus.
Park acknowledged that some schools had to start testing earlier because they had limited access to computers. She noted that schools didn't get any additional state money for computers this legislative session.
Park also said training will continue for teachers on how to teach the new standards.
Some students, however, simply felt the test was stacked against them.
Whitney Lowther, who was a Copper Hills Middle School ninth-grader this last school year, said the rumor among students was that SAGE "was made for you to fail."
While the tests weren't designed to fail everyone, there's no doubt, Park said, that SAGE was more difficult than CRTs.
Park said it's entirely possible that the state as a whole will see lower scores on SAGE than it did on CRTs once the results are released in the fall. In future years, students will see their test results immediately after taking SAGE.
Park and JoEllen Shaeffer, assessment director at the State Office of Education, said SAGE wasn't designed to be the type of assessment in which students could nail every question.
"It's a really different experience for kids who have been used to walking in and acing the test," Shaeffer said.
Perhaps Olympus High junior Anna Pinnock summed it up best when she said this first year was somewhat hit-or-miss.
"It's new and a good idea," Pinnock said, "but I feel like all the kinks haven't been worked out."
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