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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sixth graders at Fox Hollow Elementary School in Lehi take new computer adaptive SAGE tests on Friday, April 3. Some parents at the school in the Alpine District are having their children opt out, concerned about the content of the questions and other issues.
Editorial: Fear overwhelms reason on SAGE test

School test is not subversive

First Published Apr 10 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Apr 10 2014 10:40 am

A tiny minority of Utah parents is so opposed to the year-end tests used to determine whether their children have learned what they are expected to have learned that they are refusing to let those children take the test.

It’s fortunate that the number of these overzealous parents is small, because the SAGE test developed in Utah by Utah educators is likely to be a useful tool in developing Utah curriculum that ultimately can help Utah children compete for jobs in a global marketplace.

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And we purposely repeat "Utah" to describe the process, because the test is not, as many of these parents fear, developed by the federal government with some ulterior motive.

In fact, the Utah State Office of Education, with the help of educators, wrote all but 651 of the 11,783 questions in its SAGE testing bank and is sharing the rest with two other states.

The questions were scrutinized by five committees, including a 15-member parent panel that spent a week last fall going over the questions, looking for any that might have a "liberal" bent or otherwise are not up to the conservative standards of most Utahns. They found nothing nefarious.

The questions, being used this year in Utah’s first assessment of how well students are learning under new Common Core standards for language arts and math, are being "rented" for use in Florida, a state that conservative Utah legislators hold in high regard when it comes to public education. The scores are used in determining the grades schools are assigned under a Legislature-mandated grading system and in teacher evaluations.

But inaccurate and pervasive rumors continue to spread the myth that Common Core is an attempt by the federal government to brainwash young Utah minds. In reality, it is a product of a coalition of dozens of states that rightly recognize the value of a common standard of basic learning throughout the country so students’ progress can be monitored and compared.

Individual states produce curriculum. The Common Core only provides an accepted level of achievement for each grade level.

There is some justification for the concern that Utah children are tested so often that teachers are overwhelmed. But the SAGE test, using "adaptive" technology so questions offer the right level of challenge to each student, is a valuable tool to boost learning.

It’s the one test Utah should keep, despite the unreasonable fears of a few.

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