"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

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!