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Utah lawmakers like technology until they don't.
Seven years ago, Draper Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson said that computer adaptive testing was "light years" ahead of the paper and pencil assessments being used at the time in Utah.
Stephenson lauded the technology in September of 2008, when lawmakers approved a pilot program that gave a limited number of schools and school districts freedom to experiment with computer-based assessments.
That pilot led to the development of Utah's SAGE test, taken by students for the first time last spring after school officials and lawmakers spent years and tens of millions of dollars creating the next-generation assessment.
But on Thursday, lawmakers turned on the SAGE test, like Frankenstein from his monster.
"There will be legislation this year to create a task force to look at doing away with the SAGE test entirely," Stephenson said during a Public Education Appropriation Subcommittee hearing. "I think we need to be looking at the whole issue of whether we should be having end-of-level tests."
The committee conversation was prompted by Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, who objected to a plan by the state school board to lease SAGE to other states and use the revenue to create new questions for the test.
Why expand a test, he asked, if his ultimate hope is to see the assessment abandoned?
"I don't support high-stakes testing," Fawson said, "so to that end, I can't support additional development of assessment questions for that test."
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, agreed. He said students don't like the test and the results from the first year of implementation, which showed widespread failure in math and English, can't be trusted.
"The data comes out low and it's treated as an accurate assessment of where we are, when in reality it's inherently flawed," Christensen said. "If you're going in the wrong direction, you don't step on the gas pedal."
The complaints against SAGE are many, including philosophical objections to standardized testing and lingering suspicion of the Common Core, on which SAGE questions are based.
And a shortage of school technology means computer labs are tied up by the time-consuming test, forcing educators to start testing in February for what is, ostensibly, an end-of-year assessment.
But federal law requires the state to administer an assessment and state law directed school administrators to implement a computer adaptive test.
Data from SAGE also is used for grading schools and will be used in teacher evaluations next year two programs created by Utah lawmakers.
Some committee members pushed back in defense of the school board's plan, saying that as long as SAGE is Utah's test, then it should be constantly improved with new material.
"We want to make sure that we have good questions," said Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane.
And Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said she had heard from teachers and school administrators in her district who appreciated the data and information generated by the first year of the new test.
"We are setting it up to fail," she said. "We haven't given it a chance."