Major testing changes for schools unlikely
Panel decides not to pitch plan to governor, because of budget shortfall; it will seek pilot programs
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Posted: 8:47 PM- Dramatic changes to school testing in Utah will likely have to wait until at least 2010 to allow for more study - and because of the state's financial troubles, a governor's panel decided Tuesday.

The panel had planned to present a long list of recommendations to the governor this month in hopes of eliminating many tests and replacing them with others. The changes would have meant more useful data for teachers and parents, some panel members said, but also more time spent testing by students.

"It grieves me to think we're going to have to delay, but at the same time, the funding realities just aren't there," said panel member Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. Lawmakers will meet in special session this week to deal with a $272 million shortfall. The Utah Office of Education had estimated the testing changes would have cost more than $60 million.

Now, only three small districts - Sevier, Juab and Logan - will pilot the recommendations, and the panel will likely meet again next year to discuss the results. The only recommendations the panel plans to make to the governor this month will be to allow those pilots to go forward with later evaluation and consideration; to get rid of Direct Writing Assessments, which students take in grades six and nine, and put that money toward a computer writing program instead; and to encourage schools to further embrace technology.

The panel's tentative recommendations had included, among other things, eliminating the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Utah Basic Skills Competency Tests (UBSCT), which students take before graduation, and Criterion Referenced Tests (CRTs), which students take at the end of each school year. The panel wanted to replace those with computer adaptive tests given three times a year and make all high school juniors take the ACT, among other things.

Computer adaptive tests change in difficulty as students take them, adjusting to each student's skill level.

The panel spent August holding public meetings across the state to gather input on the tentative recommendations, which earned scorn from leaders of some of the state's largest school districts.

Salt Lake City Superintendent McKell Withers said he's pleased the panel has decided to wait.

"If we're going to take the time, energy and potential resources, which were huge, we ought to get it right," Withers said.

Clyde Mason, Jordan's director of accountability and program services, said the panel made a wise decision in giving the changes more time. He said questions remain about the effectiveness of computer adaptive testing in evaluating students' academic progress.

Some panel members, however, were not happy about the indefinite postponement.

"We as a panel had a real opportunity here to move forward and do what's best for kids," said Cade Douglas, Salina Elementary School principal.

The Utah Board of Education has already approved the pilot programs. Lawmakers will now consider a bill in special session to allow those pilot programs to move forward. State officials are also asking the U.S. Department of Education to waive No Child Left Behind requirements for Juab and Sevier this school year so they don't have to give CRTs. Logan will give CRTs in addition to the other tests.