Utah has gone a long way toward developing and implementing a core curriculum as a major part of school reform but now needs a way to determine how effective the curriculum is and how effectively it is being taught.
State School Superintendent James R. Moss told the Legislative Education Interim Committee Wednesday that his office has made significant progress on designing instruments to test students on core subjects, but that the process could be speeded by more adequate funding.After hearing Moss and others discuss aspects of statewide testing, the committee asked for more complete recommendations from the education community. The matter will be studied by the Education Coordinating Council and returned to the interim committee in August.
Moss said his office has had input from local school districts, education associations, a national education laboratory and schools of higher education in developing the tests, which could be ready for use in two years. National sources also have been tapped.
Moss said costs are involved not only in the development of the tests but also field testing, training teachers to use them, scoring the results and compiling data. He told the legislators he could have used $1 million rather than the $250,000 allocated for this year's work and suggested more money be considered in the future for administering the program.
Statewide testing using the same instruments would open the way to comparing how well districts are doing with the core program and would allow the state office to assess and update and strengthen core curricula as needed. It also would be a way of looking at teacher performance.
All Utah districts have student testing programs but use primarily commercially produced tests that are normed every four to six years by giving the test to a cross-section of youngsters nationwide. The tests vary from district to district and are given at different intervals.
The state's own tests will be based on identified core materials and would provide a better basis for comparison. The uniform tests also would help districts meet Gov. Norm Bangerter's request for annual "report cards" to the state, parents and communities. The committee also will consider in future meetings whether a standard report method should be instituted. Some districts now prepare reports, others do not, said Colleen Colton, Bangerter's education aide.
Although speakers Wednesday generally agreed with the concept of uniform testing, some educators are wary of comparing test results across the board. Many variables enter into those results, said Don Richards, executive of the Society of Utah School Superintendents.
Achievement tests measure only a portion of the total instructional program, and there are intrinsic differences among students and the schools they attend that affect test scores. The socioeconomic status of a community, parents' educational history and support and other factors have a significant bearing on how well students perform.
Richard said his group would prefer tests that compare a school against itself from year to year, rather than against other schools.
Superintendent Raymond Whittenburg of Jordan School District agreed.
Test scores are useful to the schools to "see where we've been, where we are and where we're going," he said. "Comparisons school to school don't tell you much."
Statewide testing raises the issue of state vs. local control, Moss acknowledged. The coordinating council represents a broad spectrum of educational opinion, and he expects a consensus only after dealing with this and other issues.