Although the Utah State Office of Education released letter grades for all Utah public schools several months ago, the actual test scores on which those grades were based were not released until October.
The schools have been working to implement a new testing system for the past two years, after the state was allowed to abandon many facets of the controversial 2001 federal No Child Left Behind program. Instead, Utah schools are now evaluated using the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System (UCAS).
UCAS grades elementary schools and middle schools on math, science, language arts and a direct writing assessment (DWA).
According to Grand County School District Assessment Director Taryn Kay, Helen M. Knight Elementary saw significant test score improvement in the past year. HMK students scored 82 percent proficiency in language arts, 75 percent proficiency in math, 73 percent proficiency in science and 90 percent proficiency on the DWA. Kay said the math scores represent major progress for the school.
HMK received 434 points out of the 600 available on proficiency and growth, giving the school a 72 percent rating – equivalent to a “B” grade, based on the new grading system the state implemented.
Kay said the grade does not fully represent the progress that HMK’s test scores showed. Last year, the school received 386 points. Kay said administrators were required to set a goal that would demonstrate enough growth each year to reach the 75th percentile. HMK’s six-year goal was an increase of 48 points, and last year's scores increased by 46 points.
“We almost met our six-year goal,” Kay said.
The state’s goal is to have all schools at the 75th percentile.
“It’s a moving target,” Kay said.
The scores at Grand County Middle School were similar to HMK’s. The school scored 89 percent proficiency in language arts, 75 percent in math, and 78 percent in science. Middle school scores on the DWA were 84 percent. GCMS received a total of 445 points, which works out to 74th percentile overall.
Scores are calculated differently at the high school level. Since high school students don’t take the DWA, the scores for the other three areas are more heavily weighted. High schools also receive points for “College and Career Readiness.” In the past, that number has been based on the school’s graduation rate, but starting this year it will also include juniors’ ACT scores.
The high school received 87 percent proficiency in language arts and 69 percent in science. Math proficiency was only 11 percent.
“Math this year was an anomaly,” Kay said. “Because of the switch to the common core, we did not have to test almost anybody at the high school in math last year.”
Federal law requires the test only be administered to students who had not taken the algebra test at any point in their school career. That meant that only 11 students in the high school took the math portion last year. Of those 11, one was proficient.
“The reason not to be incredibly alarmed by that is that none of those students had algebra instruction prior to taking that test,” Kay said.
GCHS Principal Stephen Hren said most of those 11 students tested had only recently moved into the district.
Kay said that the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence – the assessment system for Utah schools – that the high school will administer this year will give a better picture of the true math proficiency.
Kay said the Grand County School District will compare each year’s test results to those from previous years.
“What we’re focusing on is having more proficiency and growth,” Kay said.
The district also recently received news that it had passed its Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO). The assessment focuses on English language learners, or students for whom English is an additional language.
The percentage of students making progress was expected to be 42.5 percent, however, the district’s score was 62.1 percent. Students who actually attained proficiency were targeted at 30.4 percent, but the actual score was 62.3 percent.
“It’s a big deal,” Kay said. “It’s really, really good.”
Kay said she’s pleased with all of the test results overall.
“The test results are some of the best I’ve seen since being testing director,” she said. “It’s evidence of a lot of years of work.”