Archive for November 2018

Will School Board Illegally Reward Opt-Ins & Lure Kids Who Opt Out of Tests?   Leave a comment

November 1, 2018

After tonight’s public hearing of the school board in Salt Lake City,  I spoke with the state school board’s lawyer, and he promised to review the document, below.  I told him it will show him  that the new rule (which the hearing protested) is illegal, along with being harmful to a child’s education.   I will keep you posted…


October 30, 2018

Dear State School Board,

As a mother with children in elementary and high schools; as an experienced, licensed teacher currently serving as a special needs aide in a public school; and on behalf of members of United States Parents Involved in Education, I request that rule R277-404-6c be stricken from Utah’s rules.  The rule states: “an LEA shall reasonably accommodate a parent’s or guardian’s request to allow a student’s demonstration of proficiency on a state required assessment to fulfill a requirement in a course.


Thoughtful reading reveals that the rule assumes for the state unprecedented authority to begin to use “a state required assessment to fulfill a requirement in a course”.


There can be no “reasonable accommodation” for violation of law, nor for manipulative education policy. The new rule attempts to legitimize an illegitimate thing;  to let the state (or school) tempt students to barter away legitimate course work in exchange for participation in the state’s exercise titled the SAGE/RISE assessment.


That barter is an unheard-of deviation from good education.  Never before have K-12 standardized test scores been used for exchange, in trade for legitimate education.  The schools will “pay” students by releasing them from some course work and will determine– at least partially if not maximally–  a student’s grade in a class if he or she engages in the SAGE/RISE exercise.


It’s bad education policy, but it also violates laws.


Under Utah law, a school “may not reward a student for taking an assessment” (  It simply may not.  Is this rule’s offering not a reward to students? The rule tantalizes students with the lure of easy grades– especially if schools weigh the SAGE/RISE  as a large portion of course fulfillment. Meanwhile, students who opt out of the tests may face increasingly difficult class work, if schools try to strong-arm them to take SAGE/RISE, which some schools will, faced with the threat of opt outs lowering the school’s’ test-based school-grade.


Under Utah law, a school “shall consider multiple academic data points when determining an accommodation”. (  Even though this rule exalts SAGE/RISE, setting a parturient exchange rate that equates strenuous coursework with government-test taking; still,  the SAGE/RISE is what it was designed to be– an attempt to measure schools, not students. It never claimed to be a replacement for individuals’ learning experiences. The test’s maker, American Institutes for Research, declared that “When you are using a test for accountability, you’re not really using it to measure the kid.  You are using it to measure the school, or the teacher, or the district” (VP Jon Cohen, min. 3:07).   A SAGE/RISE score is thus not a valid academic data point to consider when determining student accommodations.


Moreover, in  a law called “Parental right to academic accommodations” ( we learn that  “Each accommodation shall be considered on an individual basis and no student shall be considered to a greater or lesser degree than any other student”.  In contrast to that law, the new rule elevates “reasonable accommodations” only for some:  those who opt in.  Opting out is protected and cannot be punished. –But this rule will end up punishing vulnerable populations, including those with mental, academic or emotional disabilities, as well as minorities, who statistically suffer most from high stakes testing.  They cannot legally or ethically be coerced to opt in;  they will not have equal opportunity under the new rule. This is significant.

Utah law holds opting out as an important freedom: “upon written request of a student’s parent or guardian, an LEA shall excuse the student from taking a test that is administered statewide”  –and the state is to remain in a “supportive role to the guardian”. Utah law requires the state to be in a supportive role, secondary to the guardian. Neither the state nor the school can usurp the authority of parental, educational best  judgment. Tempting students to manipulate their parents into opting them in to tests, either for easy educational rewards or other reasons, is usurping. (How is it supportive to guardians for the state to create this scenario: “Dad, Mom, I don’t have time to write my research paper; I don’t want to read this literature for the final; the state/school says I can skip requirements if I take the SAGE/RISE test –so sign this accommodation note”?)


In addition to breaking the letter and spirit of Utah’s laws, the new rule lacks wisdom, integrity and common sense. It belittles the teaching profession, it ignores the impossibility of verifying its “exchange rate”; it ignores the lack of SAGE/RISE test validity approval; it disregards the voice of the people and responds to moneyed lobbies; and it is not well-intentioned toward children..




  1. The rule denigrates the judgment and value of a teacher.  A teacher’s work is teaching, including customizing projects and finals and reports for students.  Why is that life-work to be dismissed with a cheap trade for a SAGE/RISE score?

  2. Evaluation is impossible, of the alignment between a course requirement and the SAGE/RISE. Teachers are never permitted to preview SAGE/RISE tests– nor read them after they are given– and that “confidentiality” means that equating (or trading) that test –for anything– is meaningless.

  3. Few, if any, tests would be worthy to replace high-quality course requirements, but in the case of SAGE/RISE, there is an abyss of foundational abyss. SAGE, used by both Florida and Utah, went under serious scrutiny –after Utah was already using it– when Florida commissioned two independent companies to verify its validity.  (This may have happened, in part, because a famous Utahn offered $100,000 to the State Office of Education if it would produce evidence that the SAGE test had been tested for validity. The State Office could produce nothing.) Then Florida, using Utah students’ scores as its guinea-pig study of SAGE validity, found pages and pages of egregious problems (see page 172-177).  The independent verifiers admitted that SAGE demonstrated “notable exceptions” to the use of “best practices”. See the full report of SAGE’s defects here:   In light of that report, does it make sense to use this test (or RISE, which is not materially different) as real currency in a trade against educational experience and work?

  4. The rule disregards the voice of the people, who have written laws to protect the right to opt out.  The rule responds instead to unelected agents and moneyed lobby groups which aim to increase Utah’s opt-in rate. The USBA lobby’s stated priority for political lobbying this year is quashing the rights of students and parents to opt out of SAGE/RISE, saying:  “students… should participate in state created end-of-year assessments, and educators should be allowed to encourage and motivate students to do their best on the state exams.”   Interestingly, this board gets pressure, but no financial reward, from the federal government for increased opt-in rates.  It also gets pressure from USBA to promote increased opt-in rates. But this board (and USBA) might remember that state law prohibits schools or educators from bribing (“encouraging and motivating”) students to take the SAGE/RISE tests.  It is nothing but selfish for adults to bribe students –for the benefit of adults’ interests (school grading, school funding, etc.)


Rather than complying with USBA pressures, this board should prioritize truly child-centric, parent-and teacher-supportive, honest education.  Let’s not enshrine the manipulation of children through acceptance of this  rule.  Let’s not become the school bullies that our state laws so firmly stand against.  Let’s strike R277-404-6c from the books.


Christel Swasey

Utah Advisory Board Member

United States Parents Involved in Education





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