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No one likes getting a report card.
And it seems this year, state education leaders are nervous about sending them out.
Next week, Utahns will get a first look at how their kids' schools and school districts performed on the state's new SAGE computer-adaptive testing system.
But parents will have to wait days, and maybe weeks, to see how their own children performed.
State education managers worry the reports double-sided documents awash with information are too overwhelming to send home with students or in the mail.
Instead, they are encouraging districts to schedule individual meetings with parents to explain each student's results.
"Without that, we think it would probably be a pretty difficult document to consume on your own," said Jo Ellen Shaeffer, the state's assessment and accountability director.
This fall marks the first cycle of results from a complex new state testing system that adapts to match and challenge each individual student's math skills, reading comprehension and writing abilities.
There will be no "As" and "Fs" or "not satisfactory" or "satisfactory." Students will be measured in degrees of "proficiency."
And many report cards will deliver largely bad news.
Education officials say the drop in performance is the result of a higher standard for what is considered satisfactory. But that message may not come across to families attempting to read between the lines of bulky student reports.
Why the delay? • The strict new system for measuring student performance has been pushed by reformers in the state Legislature and educators alike, but public school administrators and teachers will be the first to manage the expected blowback from parents and pupils.
The release of the data has been delayed several times this month and now comes roughly six months after students took the tests last spring.
Associate State Superintendent Judy Park said the release of the scores was delayed by glitches in the computer system that allows schools and teachers to access their students' scores. And because the test is new, policies had to be approved by the state school board, which also postponed the release.
"This delay will ensure that the systems and data are accurate and ready for public release," she said.
Preliminary data show that less than half of Utah students will score proficient on SAGE, and in some grades, only one in three students will meet grade level expectations in math.
Cache County parent Alean Hunt said the SAGE report goes too far, requiring several readings to understand. She also questioned why the state Office of Education waited until after fall parent-teacher conferences.
"I think the missed opportunity was when they could have sat down with parents and talked about these," she said.
Hunt served on a parent review committee that vetted SAGE test questions. But she said the delay and the volume of information provided to parents undercuts the success of the new testing system.
Hunt's five children in public schools will each receive three reports for math, English and science totaling 15 double-sided documents for her family to digest.
"I just think 30 pages coming at me with this information on it is too much to sit down and go through," she said. "I would need my own database to be able to sit down and look at how my kids are doing in each of these areas."
Reading the report • The top of the report contains students' overall scores and their performance levels either below proficient, approaching proficient, proficient or highly proficient.
But unlike traditional tests, students' scores are not based on the number of questions they answered correctly.
Each test includes roughly 50 questions, Shaeffer said, but the assessment adapts to each child, becoming more or less difficult based on their responses. Scores will represent a performance level rather than a percentage.
Dawn Davies, president-elect of the Utah Parent Teacher Association, said many parents are unfamiliar with adaptive testing and could be confused by the SAGE scoring as they try to figure out how many questions their child got right.
"They really need to explain adaptive testing," she said. "This is, right now, a snapshot that nobody understands."
The new report cards will show where a student's score falls on a scale, with the threshold for grade-level proficiency located near the middle.
Shaeffer said the adaptive format of the test causes scores to group toward the center. It's possible, but unlikely, that a student could earn the lowest possible score, she said. Random guessing on test questions would still earn a student some points.
"If you think about it like a bell curve, those students are going to be way out on the left side," she said.
Additional sections on the report highlight students' strengths and weaknesses and compare their overall score to the school average, district average and state average.
The back side of the English reports contains a description of how a student performed on the writing portion of the SAGE test.
That description is generated automatically by a student's score, Shaeffer said, but the score is set by professional graders contracted through the test developer, American Institutes for Research.
Report cards could be modified in the future, Shaeffer said. But because SAGE is new this year, education leaders decided providing too much information would be better than providing too little.
"We sort of erred on the side of giving them as much information as possible," Shaeffer said.
Too much too late • Leaders of the state's largest districts said administrators are still discussing how to get the information into parents' hands.
Canyons School District spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook said for now, parents with questions are being directed to teachers and school principals.
"We'll prepare individual student reports and talk with parents about those during their regularly scheduled meetings at the schools," she said.
Sandra Riesgraf, spokeswoman for the Jordan School District, said administrators are preparing explanatory letters to send out with the reports, which they hope to have distributed by the end of November.
The district also will hold a parent information night "for all parents who want to come and have questions," she said.
But after a prolonged wait for SAGE scores, some educators say the window has closed for putting the test data to good use.
During his job interview with the state school board last week, Utah's new state superintendent and current Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith said he was "intensely frustrated" by the delay in releasing what had now become "stale" scores.
He said to be effective, teachers needed to receive the data before the new school year began to help with classroom decisions.
"These results are two assessment cycles old," Smith said. "They do nothing for me unless we can make them timely."
Davies also questioned the value of waiting until October to see how children performed on a test in May.
"The timing on this year is very poor for having it be of use to the parent," she said.
Park said in the future, including next spring, students and their parents should expect to see scores more quickly.
"The kid submits the button done. There's the score," Park said. "It's not tomorrow, it's not that night, it's not the next week, it's immediate."