"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Monday, March 4, 2019

Substitute SB149: Test metrics are flawed. Funding shouldn't follow

This is my letter to the House Ed Committee asking for a substitute for SB149.

I would like to request a substitution to SB 149 that removes the funding tie to school grading and a 1% increase in points under the state accountability system.  The moment we tie funding to the accountability system, we need to guarantee that the accountability system is flawless.  If there is one instance of a school that should get money and doesn’t or vice versa, it is an unjust system.  It also sets a precedent that elevates our accountability system above all other metrics, including those that the student’s parents hold in higher regard.  Also, an accountability system that focuses on a single data-point in time, aka the statewide test, results in a monolithic system that doesn’t allow for those students and/or schools that don’t fit into the “box”.  Statewide accountability should be seen as an interesting data point.  But tying funding to it, elevates it to a level that reduces accountability to the parents and taxpayers and reduces choice in what and how a child learns best.

Instead, the accountability metrics for SB149 can and should be managed at the local board level, as proposed by the principal.  If, for example, the principal and SCC want to use this money to pay for additional special ed aides, then the metric would be different than if they wanted to pay for additional science resources.  Purchasing special ed aides will not, necessarily, increase test scores, but it may be the right thing to do.  Science resources, again, might improve test scores on science, but it may simply be a better experience for students.  And there may be a better metric than science scores(number of students passing science, for example or participating in science fairs, etc).  Or, in the case of science, they may want to focus only on improvement in science scores as opposed to the aggregate of English, Math and Science.  And science alone may not lead to the necessary rate of improvement contained in this bill. 

It would be nice if we could find a simple testing system that was easy to use and applicable to all, but the process of educating human beings and how those children react is more complex than just a simple measure on a test score.  Additionally, our tests measure HOW students answer questions, not just objective fact. 

Importantly, there are several examples of where our accountability system fails.  Just 3 of those are:
1.Dixie Montessori which is in Turnaround status.  They are a Montessori school which is much less focused on test taking and test prep.  Parents choose this kind of a school for a reason.  Should they not qualify for this money because they don’t fit the mold of what a “school” is supposed to look like?
2.UCAS which is the charter associated with UVU.  Students take college courses at UVU during high school and graduate with an Associates’ Degree at the time of their HS graduation.  Under our current grading system, UCAS is not proficient in the college-readiness category, because they don’t offer AP courses.
3.Lone Peak HS: A couple of years ago, Lone Peak received a ‘D’ grade and later appealed to receive a ‘C’ grade.  Lone Peak has the highest AP testing rate and one of the highest AP pass rates in the state.  They have a 96% graduation rate (last I checked), and they score proficiently on our testing, as well as having a much higher than the state average on the ACT.  By those measures, Lone Peak is doing well.  Where they “fail” is in not having enough non-proficient students improving at the “appropriate” level (as determined by Student Growth Percentile—which is a whole other discussion).

If our accountability metric fails for just a few schools, then they will be unnecessarily punished when we tie funding to their outcomes.  Additionally, I am concerned with Special Needs schools (Alpine district has two: Dan Peterson and Horizon) and how this testing metric will apply to them.  Special needs students are tested on age/grade-level not developmental-level.  Under that scenario, how will they improve 1% each year?  For those who take the alternative test because they are in the 1% of the most cognitively disabled, is a 1% point improvement every year possible?  I don’t know.

At any rate, since there are demonstrable flaws in our accountability system, it is wrong to tie funding directly to that system.  I ask that the bill be amended to allow local schools to propose their accountability metrics in their plan and have it approved by the local boards.  We do this with Trust Lands.  I think it should be the same for this plan.  I would also ask that this fund not receive on-going funding, but just leave monies to be funded via the WPU.


Wendy Hart
Highland, UT
Mother of 3
HI02 Precinct Chair

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