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  • U. S. Department of Education rejects Juab School District’s plan for flexibility on “No Child Left Behind” requirement

By Myrna Trauntvein
Times-News Correspondent

News the Juab School District received about a program in use in the district has hit hard.
The U.S. Department of Education has rejected Utah’s request for flexibility on the requirements of the federal mandate No Child Left Behind for school districts and charter schools that will be using computer-adaptive testing.
Members of the Juab School District Board of Education were not pleased with the news but were hopeful that the state might make a difference in the stand taken by the U.S. Department of Education.
State education leaders indicated they will appeal after the new national administration is in place.
“This is a serious problem for us,” said Kirk Wright, superintendent of the Juab School District.
He said, the pilot program the district is now involved in means that students of the district could be involved in seven to nine weeks of testing this school year.
Juab, Sevier, Logan and Uintah school districts have been using computer-adaptive testing. Other districts showing interest include Davis, Provo, Carbon, Millard, Beaver and Tooele.
Besides using computer-adaptive testing, Juab and Sevier are piloting electronic writing tests, as well as universal college preparation and admissions testing for grades 8, 10, 11, and 12 for the 2008-09 school year.
The Utah Legislature gave permission for three rural school districts, two urban school districts, and five charter schools to try out computer-adaptive testing programs and be exempt from state testing requirements between now and June 30, 2010.
“Hopefully the new administration will be more open to new things,” said Judy Park, Utah State Office of Education associate superintendent of data, assessment and accountability.
A computer-adaptive exam changes to fit a student’s ability. For example, if a student answers a question correctly, the next question is different than if the previous question had been answered incorrectly.
“It is regrettable that the department has continued to extinguish innovation by this denial of flexibility,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington.
Wright said that someone, playing a joke, had put a note on one of the computer labs at the high school the words: “Testing Center.”
The note, while humorous, reflected the view of the students involved in the pilot program. Now to increase the amount of testing would create even more of that attitude among students and staff.
Harrington said the national administration’s decision is evidence it has “little regard for local and state decisions regarding Utah’s public education.”
The two superintendents will be evaluating whether to continue with the pilot as well as the state-required testing.
“There are not enough days in the year to do the pilot and the state-required tests,” said Wright. “This is way too much testing.”
Sevier District Superintendent Brent Thorne admits that is a lot of testing for the kids but believes the assessment, especially computer-adaptive testing, is extremely valuable.
Rick Welsh, Juab School District board member, said that the district’s teachers had already complained about there being too many tests to be administered and taken.
In a letter to the Utah State Office of Education, federal assistant secretary Kerri Briggs wrote that his office would only allow the pilots to move forward if Utah could “establish that the assessments (tests) comply with ESEA (No Child Left Behind) assessment requirements” and that they be submitted to peer review.
“I do not think that we are willing to put our student’s learning at risk,” said Wright.
Park said state education leaders are open to doing the peer review. However, it could be lengthy and costly.
When Utah went through the federal peer review for the state’s Criterion-Referenced Tests, it took two years. The state supplied eight binders 8-inches high full of information and data. Utah was one of four states nationally that passed the CRT peer review, Park said.
Utah uses CRT results to supply the data required by NCLB.