SALT LAKE CITY – Scores on annual end-of-level Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) tests in language arts, mathematics and science dipped slightly in 2017 for the first time in four years, the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) reported today.
The Board reported declining scores among most student groups with the notable exceptions of increases in:
All subjects from students with limited-English proficiency and students with disabilities.
Language arts testing for students who are Hispanic and of multiple races.
Mathematics scores among students who identify with multiple races.
Overall, language arts proficiency rates decreased from 44.1 percent in 2016 to 43.6 percent in 2017; mathematics proficiency rates decreased from 46.5 percent to 45.7 percent; and science proficiency rates decreased from 48.7 percent to 47.5 percent.
Utah students have been taking state SAGE since 2014. Despite the decrease between 2016 and 2017, overall scores are still higher than in 2014.
“We will be looking deeper into the numbers to understand reasons behind the slight decline,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson. “One year of decrease does not annul three years of growth, particularly when we also have 2017 data from ACT that shows an increase in Utah high school student scores. The Utah State Board of Education will continue to focus on improving academic achievement for each student.”
Utah students take SAGE in language arts in grades 3 – 11, in math in grades 3 – 8 plus students who take Secondary Math I, II, and III, and in science in grades 4 – 8 and in Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Utah law allows parents to opt their students out of tests. In 2017, 5.9 percent of tests (69,685 tests in all) were opted out compared to 2 percent (or 22,077 tests) in 2014.
USBE will use data from student scores to calculate school grading reports in accordance with Utah law. School grading information will be released later this month.
Student data from 2017 SAGE, and all previous years, are available on the Utah State Board of Education website.
By: Michelle Croft and Richard Lee ACT Research and Policy
Despite (or because of) the federal requirement that all students in certain grades participate in statewide achievement testing, stories of parents opting their student out of the testing gained national attention in the media in the spring of 2015. Ultimately, twelve states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin—received a notice from the U.S. Department of Education that they needed to create a plan to reduce opt-outs due to low participation rates.
When statewide testing came in spring 2016, there were more stories of opt-outs, and information about districts failing to meet participation requirements will follow in the coming months.3 Early reports from New York indicate that 21% of students in grades 3–8 opted out in 2016, which was slightly more than the prior year. (See attached PDF below for reference information.)
Participation Rate Requirements
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (both the No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds authorizations) requires that all students annually participate in statewide achievement testing in mathematics and English in grades 3–8 and high school as well as science in certain grade spans. Ninety-five percent of students at the state, district, and school level must participate; otherwise there is a range of consequences.
Under the No Child Left Behind authorization, the school would automatically fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress if the school—or subgroups of students within the school—did not meet the participation rate requirement. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with greater flexibility to determine how to incorporate the participation rate into the state’s accountability system. However, in proposed regulations, the state will need to take certain actions such as lowering the school’s rating in the state’s accountability system or identifying the school for targeted support or improvement, if all students or one or more student subgroups do not meet the 95% participation rate.
Michelle Croft is a principal research associate in Public Affairs at ACT. Richard Lee is a senior analyst in Public Affairs at ACT.
This report highlights significant investments made by both Republican and Democratic policymakers in state-funded pre-k programs for the fourth year in a row. In the 2015-16 budget year, 32 states and the District of Columbia raised funding levels of pre-k programs. This increased support for preschool funding came from both sides of the aisle–22 states with Republican governors and 10 states with Democratic governors, plus the District of Columbia.
In contrast, only five states with Republican governors and three states with Democratic governors decreased their pre-k funding.
Overall, state funding of pre-k programs across the 50 states and the District of Columbia increased by nearly $755 million, or 12 percent over 2014-15. While this progress is promising, there is still work to be done to set children on the path to academic success early in life. Still, less than half of preschool-aged students have access to pre-k programs.
Increasing the number of students in high-quality preschool programs is broadly viewed as a way to set young learners on a path to a secure economic future and stable workforce. This report includes several state examples and an overview of the pre-k programs they have in place. Data tables on total state pre-K funding and state pre-kindergarten funding by program are appended. [Megan Carolan contributed to this publication.]
There’s been a lot of speculation in the K-12 policy world about how President Donald Trump will handle education issues in rural America, where he won overwhelming support in the 2016 election. One part of the puzzle could be how he decides to deal with the the Secure Rural Schools program.
The program is designed to provide additional support for schools and local governments affected by activities on federal lands and is linked to revenue from timber harvests on those lands. Before 2000, school districts and counties got a fixed percentage of this revenue, but as this timber-related revenue declined, local governments’ share of the money declined accordingly. In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and changed the way these payments were structured.
Secure Rural Schools impacts 4,400 schools and 9 million students in 775 districts. The program is controlled by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The program received $278 million in federal cash in fiscal year 2015, but the funding dropped to $58 million in fiscal 2016. A half-dozen years ago, in fiscal 2011, U.S. Forest Service payments to localities (including districts) topped $300 million. The single biggest state beneficiary of the program, you may not be surprised to hear, has historically been Oregon, with California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington also receiving relatively large payments…
During her address, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos claimed that “parents are the primary point of accountability.” When asked about policies that ensure that schools of choice are actually improving student performance, she answered that “the policies around empowering parents and moving the decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.” She later repeated the idea that transparency and information, coupled with parental choice, equated to accountability.
While it is indeed important to communicate information on school choice, transparency and information are only part of the accountability puzzle. In addition to these components, states also use accountability to ensure that schools that fail to meet academic or financial standards are improved or closed.
This is of particular importance for public charter schools, who have been given the authority to operate independently of school districts and many state rules or regulations. Accountability rules assure that students are learning and that public funds are spent responsibly.
While the accountability measures used for charter schools to demonstrate quality performance vary from state to state, they do exist, and they include more than just reporting information to parents.
Forty-three states had charter school laws in place when we completed this analysis (not including Kentucky, which passed a bill in March 2017 to allow charter schools). We examined four points of accountability within the charter school policies as recorded by the Education Commission of the States: annual reporting, specifications for termination, performance-thresholds, and technical assistance.
Most states require charter schools to submit annual reports as a part of their accountability obligations. Some annual reporting requirements include annual report cards, education progress reports, curriculum development, attendance rates, graduation rates, and college admission test scores. Many states that do not require annual reports still require financial reports, which speaks to the other side of accountability, appropriate usage of funds.
Some states, such as Washington, require charter schools to provide the same annual school performance reports as non-charter schools.
In Ohio, each charter is required to disseminate the state Department of Education’s school report card report to all parents.
North Carolina requires its charter schools to publish their report performance ratings, awarded by the State Board of Education, on the internet. If the rating is D or F, the charter school must send written notice to parents. North Carolina also requires specific data reporting related to student reading.
State Specification for Termination
Forty-two states specify the grounds for terminating a charter school, fostering accountability by establishing standards and consequences of failure to adhere to those standards. Failure to demonstrate academic achievement and failure to increase overall school performance are among the terms cited as grounds of termination among some states.
These state specifications for termination do not only apply to performance levels; they can be applied to a violation of any part of the charter law or agreement, such as fraud, failure to meet audit requirements, or failure to meet standards set for basic operations.
In addition to state specifications for termination, some states have set a threshold marking the lowest point where a school can perform before it is closed. Some states without a clearly communicated low-performance threshold have set other standards which specifically mark the lowest point of acceptable performance.
Setting a minimum threshold for performance for the automatic closure of failing schools may increase charter school accountability, and encourage high performance.
In addition to holding charter schools accountable for high performance, several states offer technical assistance to ensure that charter school administrators understand how requirements are measured, and can be directed to resources to assist them with achieving performance goals, especially if they are at risk of closure due to failing to meet previously established standards.
These are clear displays of school accountability policies that help to ensure that parents have truly good schools from which to schools. Accountability relies not only on information for parents, but also consequences for schools that fail to educate students or use taxpayer dollars responsibly.
 The following states also require annual financial audits with their annual performance reports: Arkansas, Arizona, DC, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Michigan, Texas, Utah
Utah requires the most comprehensive technical assistance offerings, provided by the state charter school board which includes: assistance with the application and approval process for charter school authorization, locating private funding and support sources, and understanding and implementing charter requirements.
Betsy DeVos gave education policy and politics watchers lots to talk about after her confirmation hearing for education secretary on Tuesday. She provided detailed arguments about Michigan charter schools and school accountability in that state, and for how she’d be a “crusader” for parents and students rather than the education establishment. DeVos also made waves for her comments on special education law and states’ responsibilities in that area.
But there were also areas of K-12 policy where DeVos gave general or somewhat limited answers to senators’ question. Perhaps it’s not surprising that in several respects, DeVos didn’t want to spell out detailed views on every issue raised, in part because she might have worried that she would come across as prejudging certain situations. And sometimes, senators left notable issues out of their lines of questioning.
Still, DeVos’ comments at the hearing leave some interesting questions about her positions. Here are some areas where questions about DeVos might be lingering…
Sen. Jeff Sessions expressed skepticism during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. attorney general on Tuesday about executive branch guidance that has not gone through the full notice-and-comment rulemaking process and said he would be “dubious” about asking courts to defer to such guidance.
The Alabama Republican, who is President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice, was asked about such guidance by Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, who did not specifically cite the controversy over the Obama administration’s informal guidance on respecting the restroom choices of transgender individuals, but Lee appeared to have had that issue in mind…