Moab’s public schools showed overall improvement this year in core subjects under a new standardized testing system that began during the previous school year.

“Everybody in the district had good gain,” district assessment director and Helen M. Knight Elementary Principal Taryn Kay said. “Everybody came up in all subjects.”

Grand County Middle School received a “B” grade, and the elementary school earned a “C” – both the same as last year’s grades – although both schools earned higher percentage scores that reflect growth in each of the subjects.

Grand County High School saw the most significant improvement, with a letter grade of “C” – up from a failing “F” grade the year before. GCHS Principal Stephen Hren attributes the higher grade in part to a more serious effort this year by students. He also cited his teachers’ more focused instruction to better prepare students for the standardized tests.

The Utah Legislature adopted a computer-adaptive testing system called Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) to measure students’ proficiency in language arts, mathematics and science.

Moab schools were among the first in the state last year to take the new, and more rigorous SAGE assessment – testing unique to Utah – and it was unclear to administrators how the state would use the results, Hren said. The uncertainty trickled down to students, who simply didn’t take the test seriously, he said.

“So we didn’t perform as well as we would have,” Hren said.

As a result, Hren spoke one-on-one with 70 students who normally performed well in the past, but who did not do well on the new tests – a verification that they did not take them seriously, he said.

“I talked about the need to put out our best effort to get a more accurate results that show where we’re at,” he said.

This year’s SAGE results showed an improvement of 10 percentage points by the high school, from an overall score of 39 percent last year, to 49 percent for this year’s results.

“We’re actually just 2 percent away from a ‘B’ grade,” Hren said.

According to the Utah State Office of Education, the SAGE assessment is much different than previous standardized tests. In a video on the office’s website, Gov. Gary Herbert’s education adviser, Tami Pyfer, explains that, “It’s not unusual for grades to drop when standards rise, but parents and teachers can expect scores to rise once students become accustomed to the new format.”

Pyfer said the tests are designed to encourage “critical thinking.” The new computer-adaptive testing format means the questions students receive are based on their answers to prior questions. For example, students who are struggling with the test will get easier questions to help them move forward, while students who “breeze” through the exam will get harder questions.

Utah high schools could earn up to 300 points for total growth; 300 points for overall straight proficiency in English, math and science; 150 points for its graduation rate; and another 150 points based on students’ ACT scores. Grand County High School scored 437 points out of 900 possible.

When compared to 20 other Utah schools considered similar in size and demographics, Grand County High School scored 37.9 percent, or 13th out of 20 schools, for language arts proficiency. In science, the high school received a higher score of 47.4 percent, or ninth out of 20 schools. For mathematics, Grand County’s score dropped to 27.4 percent, or 18th out of 20 schools.

Grand County Middle School came in third for language arts proficiency, compared to similar Utah middle schools, with a score of 52 percent.

The middle school increased its overall proficiency in language arts, mathematics and science by 8 percent, while the elementary school achieved a 3 percent increase over last year’s test results.

Like GCHS, the middle school did better in language arts than in mathematics, where it ranked the fifth lowest with a 35.7 percentage score. The school scored 40.2 percent in proficiency in science. Middle school principal Melinda Snow said she was pleased the school was able to maintain its “B” grade.

Teachers formatted tests so they would be similar to the SAGE testing so students would be familiar with the online format, Snow said.

Compared to other similar elementary schools, Helen M. Knight ranked roughly in the middle for language arts proficiency, with a 46 percent score. In science, the elementary school earned 43.4 percent.

In mathematics, HMK came in last out of 20 comparable schools, with a score of 34.3 percent.

Still, the school gained 2 percent proficiency in math, “so we actually had good growth in math,” Kay said. “We have goals to improve.”

Kay attributes several factors to her school’s overall improvement, including professional development and a new math series that teachers are using.

Additionally, “We are analyzing student data, and individualizing instruction,” Kay said.

When asked how students are assessed in other areas, Hren responded, “SAGE is the platform for the science, math and English tests. SAGE is only one component of assessment. We need to use a variety of assessments to discern the overall abilities of a student, including the artistic side, et cetera.”

Unfortunately, he said, lawmakers do not understand the holistic nature of true assessments.

High school and elementary school get a “C” grade; Middle school earns a “B”

Everybody in the district had good gain … Everybody came up in all subjects.