"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, October 7, 2019

Phase 4 of the Bond: Promises Made on Faulty Data

Tomorrow, Oct. 8, 2019, the Alpine School Board will decide which two areas will see elementary schools built as part of Phase 4 of the bond.  In November, 2017, the Alpine School Board designated a new elementary would be built in Vineyard.  However, the projections used to make that decision were revised a year later a DECREASED by almost 400 students.  That made the "promise" of a new elementary in Vineyard, not as much of a "no-brainer" as it looked in 2017.  Here is my letter to the current board.  It is important to note, that every new board has the ability of reviewing and changing the actions of a previous board.  And certainly, if they have better knowledge and information, they are obligated to act, based on that improved knowledge.


Dear Board Members:

I know you are wrangling over the decision about what elementaries to add to Phase 4 of the bond for the meeting tomorrow.  I appreciate the difficulty of this decision and wanted to clarify just a few things.

  1. Our previous board is not, legally, allowed to tie your hands, as the current board.  As new information and situations change, you are not only free to act in a different direction than what we planned, you are obligated to do so.  You are accountable for the knowledge and information you have now, regardless of what decisions we made in the past. 
  2. The decision that we made in November, 2017 to designate Vineyard as one of the elementary schools was based on data that is no longer accurate.  In Nov. 2017, Vineyard was projected to be at 1,360, non-self-contained students by this year (2019).  By 2021, it was supposed to be at 1,523.  By contrast, Sage Hills was supposed to be at 1,070 by 2019 and1,136 by 2021.  Dry Creek was 1,102 by 2019 and 1,144 by 2021.  Currently, Vineyard is at 1,085. Sage Hills at 1,140.  And Dry Creek at 1,039.  The 2018 projections were more accurate by a large factor than the 2017 projections upon which the Vineyard “promise” was made.  Those numbers are much closer to the actual numbers for this year (which only makes sense), but the 2018 projections for Vineyard in the year 2021 went from 1,523 to 1,167.  This is a HUGE discrepancy.  Additionally, the Sage Hills and Dry Creek numbers are, roughly, similar between the 2017 projections and the 2018 projections, for both 2019 and 2021.  And, the 2021 projection for Sage Hills is already 4 students short of what Sage Hills has currently, in 2019. So, there was obviously a huge error made in the Vineyard projections upon which our board based its decision.  This information and the change in data must be incorporated into your decision, regardless of what we thought at the time.  This is why you were elected, to make on-going decisions, as new information presents itself.
  3. I understand that many of you are concerned about keeping the promises that our previous board made to the citizens of Vineyard.  First, you need to know that the amount of time you’ve spent studying this issue is much, much greater than the time we took in making the original “promise”.  In point of fact,  I (and at least one other former board member) didn’t even remember this Vineyard “promise” ever occurring, until I read the Herald article and listened to the audio.  Granted, we go through a lot of issues, but I do remember the major decisions that took time, and effort, and energy.  To my recollection, this idea of specifying Vineyard as Phase 4 on the bond was not ever brought up in Superintendent Meeting, at least not one that I attended.  The placement of the issue on the agenda was one I discovered by looking at the agenda during the day or so before Board Meeting.  I have no record of having asked any questions outside of the Study Session or Board Meeting on this issue.  In short, I looked at the numbers presented and made my decision based solely on those, now obviously, incorrect numbers.  We were “promised” in our Board Meeting in November, 2017, that Vineyard would be the elementary with “the largest” population by 2021.  According to the projections, only one year later, that “promised” projection went down by nearly 400 students.  That discrepancy is the second point.  When the numbers are closer, as they actually appear to be, it’s a much more difficult decision.  This would have required a lot more analysis and discussion, than a few comments in a Study Session, then a 5 minute discussion in Board Meeting, and a vote.  Finally, based on the timing of the vote, it really did seem like we were designating Vineyard in order to appease the Hillcrest/Scera Park patrons.  And that’s fine, if you have the numbers.  But we didn’t designate any other elementaries for Phase 4 at that time.  And our numbers were much more accurate for our other elementaries.  It’s, as if, Vineyard was the only error in our projections.  I can promise you that if the numbers hadn’t been so widely out of line for Vineyard, I would not have been willing to make that determination at that time.  And certainly, if the numbers had been closer, I would have asked more questions and asked for more time.  My single vote wouldn’t have changed the board’s “promise”, but I am here to tell you, I hope you will not base your decision on my mistake.

In short, we made a “promise” with faulty data and without a lot of deliberation, discussion, or analysis.  We are not legally allowed to tie your hands.  Since you now have greater information and understanding, I ask you to take all the information into account.  If you are unable to diverge from what we, hurriedly “promised”, with inaccurate numbers, I shudder to think about other decisions that we made and the on-going implications.  You MUST be able to make a decision, without thinking about what was said in the past.  And, hopefully, without considering politics, only facts, numbers, and students.

Thanks for taking on this difficult task, and I hope you know if you decide against what I agreed to 2 years ago, I will be pleased that the system is working as it should.  And, even if you don’t, please don’t blame the hurried promises of our board for your decision.  Please own the decision, based on your own numbers.


Wendy Hart

November, 2017 Projections (2019 pg. 20, 2021 pg. 24)
November, 2018 Projections (2019 pg. 18, 2021, pg. 22)
Current Numbers (pg. 118)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Where to build an elementary school?

There could be some lively discussion this Tuesday on who needs an elementary school more: the West or Vineyard.  At Board Meeting for Tuesday, Sept 10, 2019, the ASD board has a discussion item: Plan for Phase IV Buildings.  You can find the agenda here. The enrollment numbers can be found on pages 208-209 of the meeting documents here.

The fly in the ointment is that in November, 2017, after the board decided to consolidate Hillcrest and Scera Park elementaries in Orem, the board voted to put a new elementary in Vineyard as part of Phase 4 of the existing bond.  At that time, I asked whether or not the numbers supported this, as it was a couple of years out.  I was told that, yes it did.  I apologize that I didn't stand up more forcefully against promising something so far out.  But, as the numbers appear right now, Vineyard is large, but there are options.  Here are the current enrollment numbers for elementaries with lots of students:

Brookhaven: 1346
Sage Hills: 1152Black Ridge: 1141
Vineyard: 1103
Dry Creek: 1053
Hidden Hollow: 999
Harvest: 984
Pony Express: 965

If you notice, with the exception of Vineyard, all these schools are out west.  So, here's the thing.  Vineyard is near Orem and here are some numbers from schools in Orem (which, granted, are often, if not always, smaller than the ones out west).

Geneva: 305
Suncrest: 395
Aspen: 404Westmore: 463
Windsor: 570
Bonneville: 579

So, Vineyard's high numbers could be offset by changing the boundaries and moving some of the kids in Vineyard to surrounding schools.  There are options for Vineyard.  The other schools out west have no options for moving kids around because all their surrounding schools are also really full.  It seems like a no-brainer to me for the board to simply change the decision we made in 2017 (which is completely legal), and designate two new elementary schools out west to be the final elementaries built with the current bond.  Another bond is in the planning stages for the 2020 ballot.  But even if that passes, it would take an allocation from the board in 2021, and so, best case, another elementary couldn't be completed until probably 2022.  That means the west would continue to grow for 2.5 more years without any options other than the one elementary (which is definitely needed).  To me, it makes sense to alleviate Vineyard by changing boundaries and building 2 new elementaries out west.

Why would this not be self-evident?  Well, because Orem residents weren't pleased with the Hillcrest/Scera Park consolidation and wanted a promise on the Vineyard school.  The argument could be made that the board is going back on a promise made to those residents.  True, except the majority of the board has changed from 2017.  There are only 3 board members currently on the board who were there in 2017.  Plus, the reason why you have a board that makes decisions on an on-going basis is so they can address things, as they come up.  The reason why the 2 elementary schools were not named in the original bond proposal was because it's hard to project things more than a year or so out.  My "spidey-sense" should have gone off in 2017 to think that it would be at least 2 more years before these elementaries would break ground.  I should have voted no.  The other rumor is that if Vineyard isn't named as one of the elementaries on this final phase of the bond, then the Orem City Council might choose to break off and form their own school district.  In my opinion, if they want the higher tax burden of doing this in order to keep smaller, neighborhood schools, I'm in favor of them deciding to do whatever makes sense for them. And if not, then the board needs to stand by the numbers and the logistics as they are today, and not what we thought they'd be two years ago.

Please feel free to come to the board meeting at the District Office in AF at 6pm on Tuesday.  Public comments are always welcome.  You just have to sign up beforehand.

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

Sunday, March 3, 2019

No on SB149: Don't tie funding to the state test!!!

On Monday, March 4 at 4pm, the House Ed Committee will hear the bill SB149: The Teacher and Student Success Act.  Please come, if you can, to ask our reps to vote no (or to amend) SB149!! If not, please email ASAP!!

vlsnow@le.utah.gov; susanpulsipher@le.utah.gov; mballard@le.utah.gov; dnjohnson@le.utah.gov; blast@le.utah.gov; csmoss@le.utah.gov; leeperry@le.utah.gov; vpeterson@le.utah.gov; mariepoulson@le.utah.gov; adamrobertson@le.utah.gov; swaldrip@le.utah.gov; christinewatkins@le.utah.gov

SB149 is a result of the Our Schools Now compromise that was defeated at the ballot box in November.  Our Schools Now's failure left money in a newly created account, and we need to get it out and into our schools.  None of that is a bad thing.  In fact, it's a great thing.

The problem is the proposal on how that money gets allocated to our schools.  My personal preference is to just put the money back into the ed fund and allow schools/districts to spend it like normal.  Unfortunately, SB149 wants to put a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork onto getting the funds, not to mention restrictions on how the funds will be used.  AND, my personal favorite, each school must improve in their school grading (aka SAGE/RISE/ASPIRE tests) 1% each year in order to continue to get the funding.  ASD has 2 special needs schools.  I'm sure they won't miss that additional funding.  (If you haven't seen my posts on why this statewide testing is horrific for special needs students, please look at my previous post on HB118.)

In Alpine School District, we need teachers and we need buildings.  We can't use ANY of this for buildings.  And teacher salary increases are limited to 25% of the money.  The principal of each school must create a school improvement plan.  (Each district already has a school improvement plan that is full of all the standard buzz-words and "great ideas" that exist to just "check the box" to get the state money.)  The principal may (or may not) include others in crafting the plan that has to follow along with the district's board-approved framework.  But as a taxpayer, the principal is not accountable directly to me.  That's the school board.  The principal is accountable to the school's supervisor and the supervisor is accountable to the assistant superintendent who is accountable to the Superintendent who is accountable to the Board who is accountable to me and you, the taxpayers.  What are the odds that this plan will allow us to have an option for traditional math taught?  Not slim and none, just none. And THAT IS NOT LOCAL CONTROL!

SB149 Teacher and Student Success Act. It mimics the Federal Government's Top Down approach to education that limits local control.  The UEA and I agree on this issue.  Their list of concerns is below.  Feel free to take 13 minutes (or less) to watch my interview with State School Board Member Alisa Ellis on SB149: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9LG6UF-u1M&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR15imPPfCRqd2N-H6XVVkv-GRpQeVOL_IV0tNZmsETx1AcYGdDASh2GIIc

SB149 is redundant. It creates yet another public education funding distribution method on top of the existing Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and others. SB149 is overly prescriptive. The bill usurps control from locally elected school boards by defining what school boards and individual schools must do to receive funding

SB149 creates additional bureaucracy. The bill imposes an unnecessary new burden on schools and districts to create and manage plans in order to receive a funding distribution.

SB149 is unnecessary. Given adequate funding, currently established financial distribution methods (like the WPU) can provide all the needed resources for student success.

SB149 inappropriately relies on test scores as a primary measure of school success. Standardized test scores do not fully describe student learning or teaching effectiveness.
If you've been watching my posts about HB118 for opt-out, this is worse. This bill will all but do away with your ability to opt out because once money is tied to test scores there will be tremendous pressure to take the tests. SB149 is in the House Education Committee this Monday, March 4th at 4 PM. Please call, write, and test both the Education Committee and also your representative. Please write the committee members & urge them to vote NO on SB149!

Monday, February 25, 2019

NOHB118: Not good for teachers; not good for students

A few years ago, the legislature passed a law that prohibits teachers from being evaluated based on state test scores.  I was very supportive of this legislation.  The arguments against allowing teachers to be evaluated are very similar to why students shouldn't be evaluated based on this assessment.

Please email all the senators and ask them to VOTE NOT on HB118 (#NOHB118).



















Here is my letter to them:

I ask you to vote no on HB118: Incentives for Statewide Assessments.  I was very supportive of HB201 that Rep. Poulson ran a few years ago that prohibited teachers from being evaluated based upon our statewide assessments.  There were many reasons, not the least of which were the lack of validity, reliability and predictability, of our statewide assessments. 

I will provide a few reasons up front, with more information below, should you desire it.

1.HB118 will provide a reward to those who take the tests, which inherently punishes those who opt out.  This is akin to offering a dessert to one of your children while another child is standing there watching you.  There may be reasons for this: the other child has a food allergy, for example.  You are not "per se" punishing the child who doesn't get the dessert because they wouldn't have had that dessert anyway.  BUT, watching you offer the dessert to another child is mean and does end up as a punishment.  So, the "carrot, not a stick" argument is unfounded. HB118 allows for the use of a stick for the child who is not rewarded.  The schools feel a lot of pressure to get kids, especially the one with very involved parents who probably test well, to take the test.  While incentives are currently against the law, there are many examples of students being pressured, in violation of state law, to take the assessments. (See below.) What methods will be available to opt out students and their parents who are now "punished" in accordance with state law?

I am supportive of teacher-created tests and assessments of my child's knowledge and performance.  I am not supportive of the statewide assessments which have provided no benefit to my children or to their teachers other than a single data point in time.  For a child who doesn't test well with great test anxiety or who doesn't get why one needs to know 4 different ways of finding the area of a rectangle instead of just one, this testing actually causes more trouble with the learning process than it's worth.  Additionally, the emphasis of language in math assessments puts children on the autism spectrum at a disadvantage, as well as ELL students.  Finally, special ed students are tested on grade level, not developmental level.  So, a 4th grade student who is doing 2nd grade math, would be taking the 4th grade test.  This is, in my opinion, abusive.  For these and many more reasons, parents opt out of testing. 

2. There is no federal money at risk if we don't attain a 95% participation rate.  ESSA states: 1111(b)(2)(K): “RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—

“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”

3. Special Ed students* are required to take the test at their age-level, not their developmental level.  So a student who is in sixth grade, reading at a fourth grade level, is compelled to take the sixth grade test, not the fourth grade test.  This is completely wrong, and many special ed teachers have reported (confidentially) that they are not to inform their students' parents of their right to opt out of testing.

4. Increasing the focus on testing (one that isn't seen by parents or teachers) devalues the professionalism of the teacher and his/her assessment of my child after 180 days of teaching and in-class assessments.  To allow a statewide test to take the place of a local assessment places greater value on the state-diktats than on the teacher's own evaluations. 

5. State law used to not prohibit the incentives, and after a year, the prohibition against incentives was put into state law.  HB118 seeks to reverse this trend, that the legislature apparently felt was important in 2015.

6. We talk a lot about accountability.  But this just places accountability AWAY from teachers and onto the state.  Our teachers are professionals, and they have the ability to assess our students, especially since they are in the classrooms daily, with much more nuance, understanding, and compassion than a single statewide assessment at the end of the year.  The accountability we seek should not be micromanaged from Salt Lake or from Washington.  The accountability needs to be with the local school boards, the parents and the teachers.  This further impedes the parent-teacher-student relationship. 

Rather than drawing "battle lines" between parents and schools and placing the students in between, we need to respect parental rights to opt out of things they can't see and can't control, and return the true value back to our teachers.  In point of fact, the statewide assessments exist because of a lack of trust about what is being taught in the schools.  That trust increases the more there is direction and communication at the local level, not the state or federal level.

Please vote no on HB118.

Wendy Hart
Highland, UT
Mom of 3
HI02 Precinct Chair

More information.

1. Unfortunately, while punishing students who opt out of testing or rewarding those who take the tests is currently illegal, it doesn't mean that it isn't happening.  I just recently retired after 2 terms as a local school board member.  As such, every year during state testing, I would receive emails, FB messages, texts and so forth from many people (across the state, even) with concerns about how their children were treated when they decided to opt them out of state testing.  I have heard of every practice to incentivize kids to take the test, despite state law.  My children, every year,  report how the "opt out" parents are discussed at school as being uninformed, and sometimes the rhetoric expands to disrespect of the parent or outright mocking.  Some schools have used participation points to circumvent the "course credit" requirement or have required students to take tests that they are promised are "harder and more time consuming".  Some other requirements were pizza parties, ice cream parties, not having to take the final if you simply take the test.   Additionally, our good teachers feel a lot of pressure from their districts (and the state) to perform, even though they no longer are subject to test scores being part of their evaluations.  I have had several teachers who were unaware that the test scores did not impact their own evaluations, a few years after state law had made such a practice illegal. 

2. ESSA is, in fact, in conflict with itself.  In one part it requires a 95% participation rate, and in another this rule on parent rights that clearly is violated in regard to state law. In October, State Board Member Alisa Ellis asks whether there is federal money at stake if we have a lower participation rate than 95%.  The answer she was given by the State Supt Chief of Staff was no.  The federal requirements would impose an additional line of reporting that include the 95% figure as the denominator in assessment performance.  It doesn't have to be submitted to the feds.  It doesn't impact funding.  And only about 5 Title 1 schools might be impacted for turnaround status.  However, the State Board is able to make sure that those schools are not negatively impacted if their "performance failure" is strictly due to opt outs.  State turnaround and school grading formulas remain unchanged.  see 6:05 for the explanation and 17:50 for the answer on federal monies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSdQ0jkhiqc&feature=youtu.be

3. This is a "feature" from No Child Left Behind, of which, ESSA is just a reauthorization.  Many parents of special needs students, myself included, will not allow their children to take these tests because they would be demoralizing and certainly they do not provide any information that is beneficial if they are tested at a level so much higher than what they are able to grasp.  Special Ed teachers have confided their concerns to me, but also feel the pressure to make sure they have a 95% participation rate because ESSA requires all subgroups, of which Special Ed is a part, to have a 95% participation rate.  Some teachers report they have been threatened with disciplinary action should they inform their students' parents of their right to opt out of testing.

5. SB122 from 2014 was the first bill to address opting out of statewide tests.  It contained no prohibition against rewarding students who take the test vs those who don't.  It did require that schools and employees not be negatively impacted by those students who opt out.  One year later, SB204 was passed that prohibited rewarding students for taking the test and also prohibited using the test for course credit or advancement.  HB 118 will repeal this provision that the legislature felt was a necessary protection against treating students who are opted out poorly. 

6. An example, one child was struggling in 4th grade with needing to show 4 or 5 different methods of multiplying 2 or 3-digit numbers.  The child was very good at the standard way of doing it, but really struggled with the other methods.  When his mother approached the teacher about doing just the one method that we all learned as kids, the teacher's only concern was that the child would not do well on the statewide assessment.  Doing the math, and learning how to do math wasn't at issue, it was the test that stood in the way of what both the mother and the teacher thought was best for this student. When the mother informed the teacher, the child would be opted out, the teacher was pleased to allow the correct answer through discovered by the standard algorithm to count for this child.  (If you would like more examples of the problems with our assessments and what is being assessed, I'm happy to provide that.)  Suffice it to say, these are not straight-forward, objective tests that we think of.

*All but 1% of the most cognitively disabled must take the same test as everyone else.

Monday, February 18, 2019

No on HB118: Just Say No to Legal Bullying Incentives

Contact the Utah Senate Education Committee Members TODAY (Monday, Feb. 18) and ask them to VOTE NO ON HB118.  Please be courteous, put NO on HB118 in the subject line, and write your own letter.  Please do not copy and paste.  They meet at 8am on Tuesday. 

Senator Henderson - dhenderson@le.utah.gov
Senator Davis - gdavis@le.utah.gov
Senator Fillmore - lfillmore@le.utah.gov
Senator Grover - keithgrover@le.utah.gov
Senator Hillyard - lhillyard@le.utah.gov
Senator Millner - amillner@le.utah.gov
Senator Reibe - kriebe@le.utah.gov
Senator Stevenson - jwstevenson@le.utah.gov


HB118: Incentives for Statewide Assessment Performance is sailing through the state legislature.  The federal government wants 95% of Utah students (and their subgroups: ELL, Special Ed, etc) to take the former SAGE, now RISE/ASPIRE tests as part of compliance with ESSA (remember that federal legislation that everyone said would RETURN power to the states.  Ha!).  

So, in order to help with that federal compliance piece, we want to "help" Utah parents make the "correct" decision, and give them all kinds of reasons to have their kids submit to the federal requirement.  In order to "incentivize" (aka make you comply "voluntarily"), the Utah legislature would like to allow teachers to give course credit for a student taking the state test. A test with no validity, reliability or predictability, that only 15 people have been allowed to see some portion of, but hey, the feds want it, why wouldn't parents want to go along?  

The reason for this is, in part, to not lose federal dollars under ESSA.  However, there is NO RISK of losing federal dollars, and ESSA specifically states that it protect parent rights to opt out:


“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”

Some concerns with HB118:

1. Every year, I receive many letters, private messages, texts, and tags on facebook posts from parents who have seen their children bullied for being opted out of state testing.  One young lady, who was quite shy, was told that instead of taking the SAGE test, she would be required to present an oral report in class about why she was opted out of SAGE.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Children are having their parents' ideas and opinions on this subject denigrated in class in front of other students.  Without exception, my children have been told, every year, by different teachers in different classes, that their parents do not understand and are uninformed as to the value and benefit of the state tests.  Do we really believe it is correct to undermine parental authority and to alienate child from parent all so a student will contest their parent's decision about a state test?  Is state testing really that important on any level that it demands the mockery of a parent's decision about the best interest's of their child?  Agree or disagree with opting out, mocking a child's parent is completely inappropriate, especially in a state that states a parent is legally the primary person responsible for a child's education and that the state should be "secondary and supportive."  It is currently illegal to incentivize this behavior, as well as to give rewards for testing.  Why would we want to make it legal?

2. Special Ed students (other than the 1% most cognitively disabled) are required to take the state test for their age and not for their developmental level. For example, an 8-year-old who reads on a 1st grade level would take the 3rd grade test.  Because these are "computer -adaptive" tests, some people, mistakenly, believe that they will "adapt" to present First Grade material to the 3rd grader taking the test.  This is not correct.  The 3rd grade test contains only variations on 3rd grade material. So, the child reading at a 1st-grade level, will either just hit submit through the entire test (best case) or will struggle (no time limit) to try to understand things far above her ability.  This will be demoralizing and serve absolutely no purpose. The teacher, parent and everyone else already knows the child doesn't read or do math on a 3rd grade level.  What other information would be gleaned from subjecting this child to that test?  Additionally, I have received reports from Special Ed teachers who have been told they are not to let parents know their children can be opted out. There is great pressure placed on Special Ed to get that 95% participation rate, since they are one of the groups mentioned specifically in the federal law.  Many parents and teachers of students with special needs are greatly relieved when they realize their child can be opted out, under state law, without (currently) any negative consequences to their child or their school.

3. No money at stake.  Utah, originally, requested a waiver from the feds for the 95% participation rate, due to our state law.  Since the feds rejected this waiver, HB118 was introduced to up our participation rate from 94% to 95%, proving that Utah is only a vassal state to the master that is the US Department of Education.  However, in an October State Board of Education meeting, the Board Members were told no money was at stake, and we only need create another line item in our reporting (posted on our website, not sent to the feds) to show the federal calculation along with the state calculation.  Additionally, for those (estimated at 5) schools who fall into the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools due to lower participation rates, the State Board can decide what "remediation" if any is necessary. This way, the state doesn't spend money to "remediate" schools that don't need remediation because their only "flaw" was having more kids opting out than what the feds like.  Here is information from the October State Board meeting on this subject, from Board Member Alisa Ellis: https://youtu.be/nSdQ0jkhiqc

It would be well worth your time to watch the entire segment but if you don't have time here are a couple of places that are critical.Beginning at 6:25-As our opt-out rate increases above the 95% participation threshold, the federal government requires that we change our calculation. In our board meeting the Superintendent estimates about 5 schools would be affected in the state.We would look at the lowest 5% performing schools in the state and then the change in calculation would only occur if any of those schools had more than 5% opt out.It's also important to note that we aren't even required to send the calculations to the Federal government. We simply have to run a report and post it for public consumption.Beginning at 17:50 -I asked if our opt out numbers continue to climb if we are at risk for losing federal $$$. The answer was no.
More information on opting out, nationally, can be found here: http://www.fairtest.org/federal-law-and-regulations-opting-out-under-essa

Write the Senate ed committee members and your senator, as well.  Then share this with every friend and neighbor who wants to maintain parents as primarily responsible for their child's education and to keep bullying of kids who opt out illegal.