By Wednesday, all Utah fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders will have taken at least one more test.
So what else is new, you say?Well, this particular one is designed to provide a base of ongoing evaluation and comparison among Utah schools and, as expected, was greeted with mixed reaction.
The testing, which started statewide Sept. 24, was mandated by the 1990 Legislature in an effort to promote accountability in the schools. The results, dividing schools into comparable "bands," will be released early next year.
Schools in the same band will have similar socioeconomic and other factors based on such things as how many of a school's students live in low-income households. State school officials told legislators no fair comparison could be made across the board because children in families with higher income and better educated parents traditionally score better in tests.
Comparing schools with similar statistics, however, is expected to help the state determine which schools are most effective. Results will be included in the annual report of the state superintendent of public instruction, due out this winter.
A committee selected the New Stanford Achievement Test for the statewide assessment, said David E. Nelson, testing specialist in the State Office of Education. Students are being tested in mathematics, reading, language, social studies and science.
Each of Utah's 40 districts already administers some type of nationally normed test. The new test will not supplant the current tests but will become an additional source of data on how well children are performing.
Nationally normed tests measure how well Utah students are doing in comparison to their peers across the country. Teachers are expected to use test results to help individual students improve their performance and to develop teaching strategies to shore up weak areas.
In recent years, however, there has been increasing criticism of the national tests. Teachers are tempted to "teach to the test" to improve scores, critics say, so that test results don't accurately reflect student achievement. Over time, as school performance in general improves, the scores are skewed so that more than 50 percent of the students score above average, creating a rosier-than-real performance picture.
Many educators have resisted the idea of comparing school test scores because of the many variables that affect student performance. Proponents of the statewide test argue, however, that having scores published will promote more accountability and encourage schools to do better.
Utah uses criterion-referenced tests that are specific to the state's core curriculum in addition to the national tests, so there is more than one measure of student performance.
Results of the statewide tests will go to administrators in mid-November, with districtwide data as well as individual school figures. Districts must report on the results to their school boards and to district patrons.
For years, most Utah schools have opposed releasing student test scores on a school-by-school basis, arguing that the scores would be used to make invidious comparisons between schools.
Backers of public release of test scores argue it will serve as an inducement for schools to improve. Some backers argue it would work even better if the practice was combined with open enrollment or choice so parents and students could attend the school of their choice.