Some school districts have grave concerns about a $65 million plan to revamp the state's student testing process, as proposed by the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Assessment.

Superintendents and testing officials with Jordan, Salt Lake and Granite school districts believe the proposal will increase exams for already overtested kids. They say it will also cost too much and that funding has yet to be obtained. Further, the plan could endanger the approximate $110 million the state receives for the federal mandate No Child Left Behind.

"We are not pleased," said Darryl Thomas, director of research, assessment and evaluation for Granite District.

Members of the panel say their recommendation would eliminate not-as-valuable testing time, such as end-of-year exams that tell the teacher too little too late. Instead, energy would be put toward formative testing — ongoing exams in the classroom that give teachers immediate feedback so educators can take quick action to help students improve.

This type of testing is "so much more valuable," said Patti Harrington, state superintendent of public instruction.

Jordan and Salt Lake districts have given panel members written documents opposing the proposal.

A letter by Salt Lake Superintendent McKell Withers states: "It is clear that if the recommendations were implemented as currently outlined, costs would dramatically increase, instructional time would decrease, and school, district, and state accountability measures would be compromised."

District officials also feel the panel's proposal is moving too quickly. "There are questions we feel should be addressed before implementation occurs," said Jordan District Superintendent Barry Newbold, in an interview with the Deseret New this morning.

The panel's plan to revamp state testing was presented and comments were gathered in six public input meetings statewide during the past few weeks.

The panel plans to present its proposal to the governor in September. The 35-person committee includes Utah State Office of Education officials, legislators, parents, teachers and administrators.

The proposal calls for eliminating three tests: the Criterion-Referenced Test, which is an end-of-level exam used for supplying data for NCLB; the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, which students are to pass before graduation; and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which shows educators how Utah kids are doing as compared nationally.

Instead, according to the proposal, students would be assessed with a variety of tests, including EXPLORE, PLAN, Accuplacer and the ACT.

District officials are especially concerned about the panel's push for computer-adaptive testing. This type of exam changes to fit the student's ability. For example, if a student answers a question correctly, the next question is different than if the previous question had been answered wrong.

Adaptive testing is not accepted by the U.S. Department of Education as fulfilling the requirements of NCLB.

Thomas worries if Utah implements its new testing, the state may be stuck continuing its old testing as well, just to meet NCLB requirements.

Harrington says she feels since NCLB has been an ever-evolving piece of legislation, adaptive testing will likely be accepted by federal officials. "I suspect in the next five years, they will not only allow adaptive testing, they will embrace it," she said.

Harrington added she plans to have discussions with U.S. Department of Education officials, as well as state lawmakers, regarding the panel's proposal and its implications.


E-MAIL: [email protected]