Friday, February 20, 2015

Utah Does Not Love Test It Sold To Florida

A hat tip to Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times for spotting this story.

Utah has been at the forefront of Common Core adoption, and they have been at the forefront of backing the hell away from the standards as well. They backed out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium back in the summer of 2012, citing concerns about federal intrusion, and they tried hard to keep arguing for the Core. But Utah had been playing with adaptive testing since 2009, adopting a legislative requirement to develop such a shiny test in 2012.

Of course, "develop" actually means "hire somebody to develop a test,' and Utah went with AIR (American Institutes for Research). AIR has been the ugly step-sister in the Race To Make Lots of Money from Testing. In 2014 they tried to sue the PARCC folks for creating a "bidding" process that declared that you could only win the contract if your company's name started with "P" and ended with "earson," but back in 2012 they did have one big score-- they landed the contract to develop the SBAC test. So Utah dropped out of the group that had hired SBAC to write a computer-based test of The Standards so that they could hire the exact same company to write a computer-based test of The Standards.

The test was to be called the SAGE, and in its rollout it bore a striking resemblance to all the other CCSS-ish tests, particularly in the way that it showed that Utah's students were actually way dumber than anyone expected so OMGZZ we'd better get some reformy action in here right now to fix it, because failing schools!

Meanwhile, in other States That Decided Maybe Common Core Was Very Bad Politics, Florida also dumped the SBAC. In 2013, Governor Rick Scott took a break from harvesting money to decree that SBAC was out the door. But what would they do about the federally required test-of-some-sort?

So maybe Florida made a phone call. Or maybe AIR said, "Well, if you want a Common Core test with all those nasty federal overreach barnacles scraped off it, we already have such a product." And lo and behold, the state of Utah suddenly found itself about to make a cool $5.4 million by renting out the SAGE to Florida. And that, boys and girls, is one example of how we end up NOT having the cool national assessments we were promised as part of the Core, even though we simultaneously end up with the same basic test everywhere (but can never say so, because federalism and commies and Obamacore). It's the worst of all worlds! Yay.

But wait-- there's more. Even as Florida was borrowing a cup of SAGE, Utah-ians (what do we call people who live there?) were not done hating all things Core. Turns out lots of Utah-vites aren't stupid, and when you show them a test that walks and talks and quacks like a duck, and comes from the same parents as all the ducks, they do not believe you when you tell them it's an aardvark.

You can measure the desperate thrashing of Utah's educational thought leaders by this "fact sheet" about the SAGE in which they make such points as "SAGE test students' knowledge and skills, not what they believe" and "SAGE tests are not part of the Common Core but they do-- in part-- measure whether students know and understand the Core standards."

Apparently that's not enough. Benjamin Wood in the Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah's lawmakers are not feeling the high-tech SAGE love. Rep. Justin Fawson didn't like the state board's plan to use the leasing income to beef up the test (or, in other words, take the $5.4 million and just funnel it straight back to AIR). Rep. LaVar Christensen doesn't think the SAGE data is trustworthy.

"The data comes out low and it's treated as an accurate assessment of where we are, when in reality it's inherently flawed," Christensen said. "If you're going in the wrong direction, you don't step on the gas pedal."

Additionally, SAGE has the usual problems, including a shortage of computers to plunk every student in front of, so that according to Wood, some schools start their end-of-the-year testing in, well, now. Wood quotes Senator Howard Stephenson, a lawmaker who, back in 2008, thought Utah's computer adaptive testing was the bee's knees:

"There will be legislation this year to create a task force to look at doing away with the SAGE test entirely," Stephenson said during a Public Education Appropriation Subcommittee hearing. "I think we need to be looking at the whole issue of whether we should be having end-of-level tests."

So why did I find this story in the Tampa bay Times? Because now we have the prospect of Florida buying a product from folks who don't want to use the damn thing themselves. "Try this," says the salesman, who when asked about his own use, replies, "Oh, God, no. I would never use this stuff myself. But I will totally sell it to you." Congratulations, Florida, on buying material that has been field tested in Utah (which is a place very much like Florida in that they are both south of the Arctic Circle) but which the Utahvistas don't want themselves. It sounds like an excellent bargain.


  1. Utahns. We're called Utahns. The funny (not ha ha) thing about this is that Howard Stephenson loathes teachers and public education, so this sudden change of heart is suspicious.

  2. And we've already begun testing. The writing portion of the SAGE just got done today. It's been going for three weeks. Now we'll have about six weeks and then the REST of the SAGE will be in April and May.

  3. Isaac- are teachers allowed to see SAGE questions?....get results back in any timely fashion?....have any possibility of "informing instruction" or is it an equal farce as Parrc and Sbac ? Are student scores affecting teacher's evaluations?

  4. A few teachers have seen some SAGE questions, but in general, no, they cannot see the questions. No questions have ever been released for any of the past itinerations of Utah standardized tests, either.

    As to informing instruction, at least this past year, we didn't get the scores until November, and only a score of 1-4. We've been promised that we will get more nuanced scores and faster than last year, but frankly, I'm not holding my breath.

  5. Sage and common core are complete and total crap. Teach the kids ridiculous ways to do simple math, like 4+4=8 right, They teach that 4+4 is very similar to 5+5=10 so the difference between 4 and 5 is 1 so the correct answer is 5+5=10-2 = 8 I kid you not. This is an example that one of my kids came home and explained. I recently moved to Florida from Utah and was hoping to get away from the SAGE testing.