ST. GEORGE — The Washington County School District released their end of level assessment scores for 2019 during their Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
Last semester’s results were delayed due to functionality difficulties with testing services. The problems varied from login errors to data not recording properly. These errors extended to the RISE and ASPIRE Plus assessments.
Third grade students take the English and math RISE assessments, while fourth through eighth grade students add the science RISE exam as well. The ASPIRE Plus assessments are for ninth and 10th graders.
The presentation led by Brad Ferguson, the district’s director of assessment, learning and research, was broken down by test and grouped by grade level.
RISE was created by Utah educators to measure the Utah Core Standards and was formerly known as SAGE. The assessment is untimed and graded on a 1 to 4 scale, with 1 being well below proficiency and 4 indicating a student is above proficiency.
Last year’s third- through fifth-grade students maintained the district’s positive trend for RISE assessment scores in English, increasing the average number of proficient students – those with a score of a 3 or 4 – by about 1 percentage point and continuing to lead the state by 2 percentage points.
Science also saw an increase, continuing to be a strong suit for the district. Ferguson said he believes this is the result of the engaging elements of the section. Washington County fourth and fifth grade students managed a 54% average in the number of proficient students, which is an increase of four percentage points from last year and 2 percentage points higher than the state average.
Washington County School District Communications Director Steven Dunham told St. George News he attributes the dramatic increase to a “revamping” of the state’s core standards. Teachers and coordinators put in a lot of work behind the scenes, he said, to prepare students and get them more engaged in the learning process.
Math scores, however, declined for both the district and the state. Washington County third- through fifth-graders saw an overall 2 percentage-point decline in the average number of proficient students, falling 1 percentage point below the state average. Although the district has seen an overall 1-point increase in percentage since 2014, the path has been rocky, shooting up 4 percentage points from 2014 to 2015 and falling back in the following years.
Ferguson said he doesn’t believe testing malfunctions attributed to the decline in the average number of students who exhibited proficiency in the Utah Core Standards.
“As far a problems with the testing system this year with Questar, our elementary schools were not affected as much as other schools,” he said. “So I wouldn’t be inclined to attribute testing problems with that and these results.”
However, Rex Wilkey, assistant superintendent over elementary education, said he knows of a number of schools that struggled during the testing services problems. He said a number of schools had to shut down and invite students back to retake.
Sixth and seventh grade students who participated in the RISE assessment only saw an increase in proficiency in one of the three categories. Ferguson did attribute this to testing services malfunctions, saying that many students and teachers decided “it wasn’t worth it” to continue to try to strive for peak performance just to have to retake the test or be shut out completely.
“The functionality of the test, I think, affected students and then that sort of played over into language arts,” he said. “Those same students are now going into the language arts tests going ‘Well, I had such a bad experience with math. What’s the point of getting involved with this now?‘”
Middle school students saw an about 1 percentage point increase in the average number of students who were illustrated proficient knowledge of science material on the RISE assessment. Although its still about 5 percentage points higher than the state average, it is an overall decrease in the average number of proficient students since 2014.
And for the first time in five years, sixth and seventh grade students did not lead the state in the average number of proficient students in English and math. In both sections, the county matched the state average at about 43% for math and about 48% for English.
Eighth grade students saw a significant increase – 9 percentage points – in the number of students proficient in science, with an average 4 percentage points higher than the state of Utah. In English, students saw an about 1 point increase in the average, resting at about 58%, which is about 3 percentage points more than the state overall.
With the assessment’s rebrand, the district was able to decrease the elementary opt-out rate by almost half, going from 4.5% opt-out in 2018 to 2.6% in 2019.
Utah ASPIRE Plus assessment
Instead of the RISE assessment, ninth and 10th grade students take the Utah ASPIRE Plus exams in preparation for the ACT. Last year was the first year the exam was offered, and it is meant to predict what scores students would receive on the ACT if they were to continue on their current path.
The exam measures English, reading, math and science proficiency and is timed, like the ACT. Half of the items on the exam also measure Utah Core Standards, as indicated by the “plus.” Students are given individual reports that break down their composite score into sections.
Almost 54% of ninth grade students were proficient in English, while almost 48% were proficient in reading. Almost 47% were proficient in math, and almost 39% were proficient in science. Likewise, almost 53% of 10th grade students were proficient in English, and 49% were proficient in reading. About 36% were proficient in math, and 32% were proficient in science.
Due to this being the first year the test was administered, the district is unable to compare this year’s scores to previous years; the state has also not released their scores at this time.
As far as opting out, 2% of ninth graders opted out of taking the SAGE assessment, compared with 5% in 2018. However, 10th graders opting out saw an increase from 5% to 6%.
Unlike students in prior grades, 11th grade students do not complete a state end of level assessment. Instead, they are given the ACT at no cost to them. This allows for the students to have a “free trial” of the college readiness assessment before their final year of high school. Students are able to retake the ACT – and now particular sections of the ACT – on their own time, but the district will not cover the cost of retakes.
The district saw an average composite score of 19.4, just .3 less than the state average. Overall, the state average was slightly higher than that of the district in all sections but mathematics, where Washington County students earned an average of 19.4 and the state earned an average score of 19.3. District scores either increased or remained the same from 2018 to last year’s scores.
Washington County also saw an 88% participation rate in the number of 11th grade students who took the ACT last year. The district accounted for 1,940 of the 42,435 Utah students in the 11th grade who took the national test.
Ferguson said the 88% participation rate for both the ASPIRE Plus and ACT could have a similar cause.
“We marketed the ASPIRE test, we marketed the ACT that this is a college test,” he said. “In fact, this is a great deal. In fact, the ACT is paid for you this time. … I think we just have a certain percent of students that are not really interested in being college bound.”
Ferguson said the district knows this, which is why it is building a career education and technical high school for students who have said they want something different in terms of education.
The Board of Education is set to hold its next regularly scheduled, monthly meeting on Nov. 12 beginning at 4:30 p.m.
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