SALT LAKE CITY — Students' performance on SAGE, Utah's year-end test, might be taken out of the equation when school administrators evaluate their teachers, and some high school juniors might not have to take the exam starting next year.
That's the hope of Cottonwood Heights Democrat Rep. Marie Poulson, who presented her proposals to the Utah State Board of Education on Friday.
SAGE is a state-mandated exam given to students in third through 11th grades, measuring their proficiency in language arts, math and science.
But since SAGE has no bearing on students' individual grades, some students aren't inclined to put forth an honest effort when taking the test, potentially skewing data at the school or classroom level, Poulson said.
And the fact that parents have the option to opt their children out of the test can also affect the overall scores of a classroom, especially if the highest- or lowest-performing students opt out, she said.
"As a teacher, I taught juniors and seniors for many years," Poulson said. "It's very difficult, if not impossible, to motivate students at the age that we're talking about to want to do well on these tests when they have no skin in the game."
Yet improvement in student performance, called student growth, accounts for 20 percent of teacher evaluations, and for some instructors who teach English, math or science, that growth is measured by SAGE.
"They feel like they're being held accountable for something they can't control," Poulson said. "I've heard from so many teachers that told me that this one item was the major reason for their decision to leave the classroom and retire early."
But HB201 would prohibit the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluations.
"If we can't verify the data, then we shouldn't be doing this to teachers," she said. "I think that's a discussion that needs to come somewhat from the top down."
Poulson is also sponsoring HB200, which would give schools the option not to administer SAGE to high school juniors.
Since Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act to replace No Child Left Behind, states are still required to administer year-end exams, but the new act only requires that they be administered once during grades nine through 12. Instead of SAGE, state education leaders could use the ACT, which is already administered to all high school juniors in Utah, as an alternative measure of student success, according to Poulson.
"This just allows some flexibility to the districts," she said. "Although there is some good and bad things with the new ESSA law, we need to capitalize on some of the flexibility that it offers us."
Both of Poulson's bills come as follow-up measures to a resolution she ran last year, which asked lawmakers and educators to look at ways to reduce "excessive" testing.
But it's unclear what impact the proposed changes would have on existing policy, such as Utah's school grading system, which is based on SAGE scores.
HB200 could create inconsistency between schools that choose to opt their 11th-graders out of the test and those that don't, unless other legislative revisions are made, according to Rich Nye, associate superintendent of data, assessment and accountability at the Utah State Office of Education.
"There definitely would be some ripple effect," Nye said. "It would certainly change how school grades are calculated."
State education leaders were also unsure of prohibiting schools from using student growth as a metric in teacher evaluations. Instead, board members considered the possibility of removing student growth as a required metric, leaving it up to local schools whether to use it.
"I think we do need to continue to work with the representative on this to make sure that we're at least considering all the ramifications," said State School Board Chairman David Crandall.
Both bills have been introduced in the House, but they were held in the House Rules Committee on Friday due to concerns from GOP members about the breadth of the proposed changes.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
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