The effects of additional resources, cohesive communities and various choices in educational emphases show up in achievement test scores from Tooele, South Summit, North Summit and Park City districts.
(Efforts to reach Wasatch District Superintendent Henry Jolley during the school Christmas break were unsuccessful. The Wasatch scores will be published in mid-January after a general statewide release of test results.)The scores resulted from Utah's first-ever statewide testing that took place this fall in grades five, eight and 11. The Utah Legislature mandated the tests as part of a push for school accountability.
Although scores were relatively low in Tooele, Superintendent Michael Jacobsen said he is not particularly concerned. The Stanford Achievement Test, 8th Edition, the statewide test selected by a committee of educators, did not measure some of the educational areas the district has chosen to emphasize.
While stressing that he believes in school accountability, Jacobsen said, "I have been an opponent of standardized tests. I think they are almost totally worthless." The tests prepared by companies for use nationwide measure the concepts the test-preparers assume all children should know, he said, "not necessarily the ones we focus on."
Tooele District does well on tests based on the state core curriculum, he said, indicating students are absorbing the materials they are being taught. The district has used the Iowa Basic achievement test in the past to measure students against national norms, and they have scored well above norms, he noted.
The district also concentrates on teaching children thinking and problem-solving skills, developing lifelong learning patterns and character development, items that are not measured by the SAT.
Tooele had several scores that skewed averages. The district's alternative high school scored only 5 percentile points - understandably, Ja-cobsen said, since these are "stu-dents who don't have any interest in school anyway."
At the same time, at the fifth-grade level, three students in the tiny Vernon school scored an average 89 percentile points, an aberration that raised the average overall for that grade. The average at fifth grade was 48, two points below the national norm.
Jacobsen said a prevalence of families in the district in which both parents work has an effect on school performance. "Lack of parental involvement is a bigger factor than low income," he said.
In North Summit, Superintendent Don Francom is feeling pretty good about the scores his students amassed. At all grade levels, the students were above national norms. However, the district had somewhat less intense participation in the tests, with only 82 percent at fifth-grade level, compared with the high 90s in most districts.
Francom said his district "will be working diligently to upgrade English and language in the district. In math, we're doing exceedingly well." Comparatively low scores in the language arts were typical across the state.
The consistently low scores may indicate a need to analyze the state core curriculum, Francom said.
He attributed his district's good performance in the statewide tests to "Expectations, in one word." Students tend to measure up to the expectations set for them. In addition, he said, he takes care to see that teachers have the classroom texts and materials to achieve those expectations.
Last year, he spent $45,000 for books and supplies - more than twice the $21,000 the district received from the state.
"You can't teach kids with insufficient, outdated textbooks. The Legislature needs to understand that we need these things."
In a small district, the loss of one teacher in an academic specialty can make a difference in scores, said South Summit Superintendent Mark Littleford. In the 11th grade, a percentile score of 49 in mathematics helped pull the total battery average down to 48 - two points below the national norms. A second weak area was English, at 45 percentile points. The low English marks have popped up statewide.
The math score is explained by the loss of a teacher in midyear last year, Littleford said. By the time a good replacement was found - in an academic area where teachers are in short supply - students had lost some valuable instruction time.
South Summit also tested 100 percent of its students. No special education or resource students were excluded if they could have any meaningful participation, he said.
Like Jacobsen, Littleford has reservations about the nationally normed tests as a hallmark of accomplishment in Utah. The tests "ignore the creative thinking skills and are based almost totally on recall of rote facts."
Even so, the SAT has value in analyzing how Utah is doing and what is being taught in the state's schools in comparison with the rest of the country, Littleford said. His district will study the local results and use the information to foster improvement.
Park City Superintendent Nancy Moore, expressing great satisfaction with her district scores, also acknowledged that her teachers have smaller classes and more resources than most in the state. The district is the only one that has levied all 10 of the permitted local leeway property tax mills. It spends more per student than any of the other 39 districts in the state. The community has been very supportive, both with taxes and voluntary efforts in the local schools, she said.
In most test areas, the Park City students performed well above national norms. The scores are particularly significant, Moore said, because last year the district used the same SAT 8th Edition test that was used in the statewide testing. This year's scores are 15 to 20 percent above last year's.
The SAT is just one indicator of performance, she said. Park City also relies heavily on performance-based tests, and has developed a writing portfolio to track children's progress in writing.
National norm 50
TOOELE SCHOOL DISTRICT
School Total Battery Expected Range
Dugway 32 41-69
East 38 45-72
Harris 50 40-67
Ibapah 38 21-43
Stansbury Park 58 45-72
Tooele 48 40-67
Vernon(3 students) 89 30-55
West 47 41-69
Grantsville 47 44-70
Grantsville 50 42-63
Tooele 48 42-64
Dugway 53 42-64
Wendover 31 42-64
Dugway 52 37-62
Grantsville 43 37-62
Tooele 44 39-64
Wendover 21 37-63
Tooele Valley* 5 34-60
Note: North Summit, south Summit, and Park City districts have just one school at each of the tested levels. School scores are also district scores.
PARK CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Fifth grade 73 47-75
Eighth grade 67 45-68
Eleventh grade 61 42-66
NORTH SUMMIT SCHOOL DISTRICT
Fifth grade 61 48-67
Eighth grade 60 44-62
Eleventh grade 51 48-61
SOUTH SUMMIT SCHOOL DISTRICT
Fifth grade 58 46-64
Eighth grade 51 42-59
Eleventh grade 48 46-58