The State Board of Education is giving Sevier School District the thumbs up to continue its pilot program of using an assessment-based testing program from the Northwest Evaluation Association.

However, whether Sevier will get its request to be exempt from the state-required exit exam and the federally required end-of-level testing is yet to be seen.

State education leaders are working with federal education officials regarding the request for Sevier District to be exempt from the Criterion Referenced Test (CRT), which provides data for the federally mandated No Child Left Behind's Adequate Yearly Progress reports.

Instead, the district would have an adjusted U-PASS and AYP accountability system.

The recommendation for the Sevier District pilot program came out of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Assessment in May.

Board member Dixie Allen, Vernal, said she believes the state board should jump on board. "I do believe this is going to happen," she said.

Other board members are hesitant. Tom Gregory, Provo, said he is concerned about setting a precedent for waiving state laws. "It seems this opens up a huge can of worms," he said.

The state board voted unanimously on Friday to approve Sevier District's pilot program. The board also agreed if the district is going to require students to take the ACT college entrance exam as part of its testing program, all fees for that test should be waived for the first test attempt.

The board didn't put a monetary figure on its decision as it doesn't know the exact costs yet. It also did not promise funding, in general, for the program.

NWEA is a nonprofit organization based in Oregon. The assessment testing is a national program that has 30 years of research. Uinta and Juab school districts are beginning to pilot the program, said Sevier Superintendent Brent Thorne.

It is used in 3100 school districts nationally according to NWEA officials.

Sevier District used the Northwest program along with UBSCT and CRTs during the 2007-08 school year — a lot of testing for the kids. The district would prefer to simply use the Northwest program, Thorne said.

The Northwest testing is given three times a year. It allows teachers to see early on in the year where the individual student needs to improve.

"We see where they're at and what they need to learn," Thorne said. "The teachers know where every student is at."

This is compared to end-of-level tests that come too late for teachers to intervene. Some educators refer to these exams as autopsies, he said.

The Northwest tests are taken on a computer and are adaptive, meaning each question the student answers correctly leads to a more difficult question. No student ends up taking the same test, Thorne said.

He said the Northwest test is more rigorous than UBSCT and the CRTs.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com