Carbon County School District Press Release
Imagine yourself being a high jumper. You are trying for a new personal record height but you keep missing it, but just by a little. You are not quite “reaching the bar.” Then someone comes along and says “You should actually be able to jump higher than the height you are now aiming at so we are going to raise the bar more.”
Would you feel frustrated? Would you think that is right? Or would you see it as a challenge to overcome?
This is exactly what public education has been facing this last couple of years. In the past the old way of seeing if students were “reaching the bar” academically in the basic subjects of English Language Arts, mathematics and science was to use what is called CRTs (Criterion Referenced Tests). These assessments were used until 2013 to see if students were achieving the kinds of learning they needed to meet competitive standards nationally and internationally, both for higher education and for the workplace. But in 2014 the state of Utah moved to what is called SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence) testing.
The two tests cannot be compared to one another, because the levels of questions for each assessment are different. As Carbon District’s Secondary Supervisor Judy Mainord put it when the first year test scores came out, CRT “was like running a mile” while SAGE is more like “swimming a mile.” They are very different measuring sticks for student achievement and growth.
On top of that SAGE is also a much more rigorous test, albeit, raising the bar even farther than before. Older testing systems used a lot of multiple choice questions which allowed students to guess and have some kind of answer, even if they didn’t know the information or a process. Most of SAGE is now based on higher thinking skills, with open ended questions and unique items. Students must know the material or how to arrive at solutions in more challenging and thoughtful ways to determine the most likely answers.
SAGE scores for 2014-15 were released in September and overall Carbon School District grew above last year’s total scores in two of the three categories. This year the district scored 38% proficiency in English Language Arts (36 last year) and 36 % in mathematics (a 31 last year). The science portion of the test remained the same percentage as last year at 39% proficiency.
Statewide the scores were still higher overall than Carbon’s with Language Arts being at 44.12%, mathematics at 44.6% and science at 46.80%.
Individually some schools in the district beat the state averages. In Language Arts Castle Heights Elementary got a 45%. In mathematics Wellington Elementary got a 50%. In science, three schools beat the state average. Bruin Point Elementary garnered a 60%, and Castle Heights and Carbon High both made the 47% mark.
But not reaching the state average is not necessarily the most important thing for the next few years; showing growth toward those numbers is the task.
“The success we are seeing is coming in student progress and growth,” said Mainord. “You may have a school or group that didn’t really change scores in the overall scheme of things, but their progress has been great in growth toward achieving those higher scores.”
She cited certain groups of students, particularly at Carbon High School, that showed constant and in some cases great growth from last years to this years scores.
Across the district some of the schools had high MGP (Median Growth Percentiles). The MGP is derived by assigning students, based on their achievement in a prior year, to academic peer groups. Growth in these peer groups is “normed” and a median (middle) score is identified giving each subject, grade, and school an MGP. A school may earn a 43 MGP indicating that 42 students or groups grew less and 57 grew more. In Language Arts Carbon High earned a 59.5 MGP, Sally Mauro Elementary a 56.5 MGP, and Helper Middle School scored a 53 MGP. In Science Carbon High made a 55 MGP, Castle Heights Elementary scored a 48 MGP, and Creekview Elementary earned a 46.5 MGP. In Math, the one area that all school districts and schools struggle with the most, Carbon High scored an impressive 60 MGP, Bruin Point Elementary a 55 MGP and Creekview Elementary a 42 MGP.
One of the indicators of impeded growth for students in all aspects across the state, is poverty. Carbon County has a lot of poverty, in fact it has one of the highest rates of poverty in the state. Grades, test scores and other school achievement rates are always affected by the level of poverty in an area. In Carbon District, economically disadvantaged students taking the tests, depending on the category, was near 39 percent.