Archive for February 2019

Utah Senate Set To Vote on HB118   1 comment

Dear Senators,
Why is there a single “yea” vote for HB118?  I really want to know.
It can’t be about funding.  Zero federal dollars are on the line if HB118 passes, or not. This was clarified by Superintendent Dickson in a recent state school board meeting. You can see it at minute 17:00-20:00 here:
It can’t be about improving the academic experience of a child. Not a single child in our state is benefited by the test. The SAGE/RISE  is not the type of test that a child can learn from, or that a teacher can gain insight from– no one gets to see it.  Despite not benefiting kids, HB118 will raise the test to an extremely important status since taking the test may result in parties, prizes, and easy GRADES. Less class time will be spent on education that’s not in the narrow band of tested skills. Teachers won’t be teaching as much, because they will have to teach directly to the test. That cheats students. It creates a terrible temptation for students who care about their grades, to skip new learning  and substitute test-taking. I taught high school English for many years, and required students to write MLA-formatted research papers— following having read, researched, drafted, revised, and learned to create citations and works cited pages. How can a SAGE/RISE test replace that? Students are human beings– they are not going to choose to do rigorous classwork if they can easily get a high grade for just taking a test.
It can’t be about improving the mental health of a child. Countries that raise the stakes of testing see increased youth unwellness and suicide.  Doing poorly on the high stakes test, or fearing that one might do poorly, increases test anxiety and youth depression.  This understanding alone should make our senate unanimously vote NO on HB118.
It can’t be about an honest belief that this test is a fair measure.  Last year, this legislature passed HB201 which made illegal the use of the SAGE test for grading teachers, so why now, do some in the legislature believe the test should be used to grade children?? This especially makes no sense, considering the fact that SAGE test producer AIR explained, “When you’re using a test for accountabilityyou’re not really using it to measure the kid. You’re using it to measure the school, or the teacher, or the district.” VP of AIR, Jon Cohen. See min. 3:07 at
It can’t be about accountability.  Some proponents of the bill cite “accountability” as the reason they’re voting for it. Accountability for whom?  AIR said it’s not a valid measure for a student.  HB201 said it’s not a valid measure for a teacher. Yet HB118 seeks to use SAGE/RISE to measure a student and to pass out grades based on the test. The test isn’t accountable to Utahns. Students and teachers and parents don’t get to see what questions were missed; so it is of no benefit to those for whom education exists.
  PLEASE vote no on HB118.
   Christel Swasey
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Utah Schools to be Alarmingly Test-Centric under HB 118   3 comments


Dear Utah Senators,

Please vote no on HB118. The bill contains five big red flags.

1. The first one is a pawn-off, trading real educational experiences and fair grading, for participation in the big standardized test and an easy grade. That’s a shady trade.

See line 13: “allows at teacher to use a student’s score on certain assessments to improve a student’s academic grade”.

2. The second big red flag: equating test-taking for actual student competency toward college in a way that can allow students to never learn certain things (that aren’t on the federally aligned test).

Line 83 says that a teacher may use a student’s score on the high school test to improve the students academic grade OR to “demonstrate a student’s competency within a relevant course.”

Lines 142-145 say: “LEA shall allow a student to earn course credit toward high school graduation without completing a course in school by a) testing out of the course; or b) demonstrating competency in course standards.”

Since only 15 people in the state may view the test, most students, teachers, legislators and parents are blocked from seeing the test. How would academic competency and equality be verified? It won’t be. It’s false to say, without viewing and analyzing the two things being compared, that one thing (the standardized test) matches another (Utah-defined, teacher-defined, academic competency). Moreover, wherever Utah standards and teachers have tried to teach above and beyond Common Core standards, those differences may go away, since they can’t benefit, students taking these tests for their grades.

3. The third big red flag is the twisting of a good principle: parental accomodations for students’ best interests. The bill cites the good Utah code that “a student’s parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student, and the state is in a secondary and supportive role… has the right to reasonable academic accommodations”.

But it’s out of context. Test taking pressure has nothing to do with empowering parents. It is not a “reasonable academic accommodation” (regardless of whether it’s a parent’s or a teacher’s idea) to redefine what quality academics are; to trade teacher-created, meaningful and robust coursework for a passing score on a big, nationally standardized test. It simply is not reasonable.

I taught English for many years, in high schools and at Utah Valley University. I can imagine how many students would rather gamble on a big standardized test, than actually read novels, and actually write MLA-formatted essays and reports. This bill has the power to make a joke of legitimate educational expectations of teachers. Talk about dumbing down effects!



4. Fourth, there is the issue of opting out rights. Pressuring (or tempting) students and parents to quit opting out, incentivizing that temptation with the lure of an easier grade, will surely have the bill’s desired impact of reducing opt outs and will put the state in greater compliance with federal wishes– but the question is, at what cost ? Do we really want Utah to pressure and coerce people into opting in to something they have determined isn’t a valid measure of their child?

5. Fifth, the bill will alter Utah’s education culture, making it more and more test-centric. That move that has been shown in many places, outside the US and inside it, to drive up anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.


At what cost are we incentivizing and valuing the SAGE/RISE Common Core tests? How many students will opt in, and lose the opportunity to be held accountable for real academic experiences? How many parents and students will get into a family fight because the student wants the easier grade, but the parent does not feel right about opting in to the test?

How will watching HB 118 pass; seeing Utah bullying its own people into taking this test, then affect the federal confidence level that it can continue to enforce unconstitutional, federally-orginated change in Utah education? How many will suffer anguish due to the increasing high-stakes test pressure? How many suicides will be partially or completely resultant from the change that makes Utah increasingly test-centric in deciding how it values students?

Please vote no on HB 118.


Christel Swasey

Utah Senators:

Wayne Harper ,
Deidre Henderson ,,,
Daniel McCay ,
Daniel Thatcher ,
Jacob Anderegg ,,
Keith Grover ,
Curt Bramble ,,,
Allen Christensen ,,
Jerry Stevenson ,
Stuart Adams ,
Todd Weiler ,
Ralph Okerlund ,
Lyle Hillyard ,,
David Hinkins ,
Evan Vickers ,

 – – – – – – –

This week, KUTV produced a short t.v. article about HB 118.  I happened to be interviewed as a mom in favor of retaining the right to opt out of the high stakes tests.  Here is that link.

 – – – – – – –

The title of KUTV’s article is false.  There is no risk of a 90 million dollar loss in funding if we don’t pass HB 118.


Alisa Ellis, a state school board representative, showed that the notion is false, and that Utah is at no risk of losing federal funding.  She wrote:


HB118 is sweeping through the legislative session based on a false premise.

There is a growing misconception that we need to incentivize students to take the end of year tests or we are at risk of losing federal $$. This is completely false.

Please take a moment and watch our board meeting from last October.

It would be well worth your time to watch the entire segment but if you don’t have time here are a couple of places that are critical.

Beginning at 6:25-

As our opt-out rate increases above the 95% participation threshold, the federal government requires that we change our calculation. In our board meeting the Superintendent estimates about 5 schools would be affected in the state.

We would look at the lowest 5% performing schools in the state and then the change in calculation would only occur if any of those schools had more than 5% opt out.

It’s also important to note that we aren’t even required to send the calculations to the Federal government. We simply have to run a report and post it for public consumption.

Beginning at 17:50 –

I asked if our opt out numbers continue to climb if we are at risk for losing federal $$$. The answer was no.

Please reach out to the Senate Education committee and ask them to vote no on HB118.

Senator Henderson –
Senator Davis –
Senator Fillmore –
Senator Grover –
Senator Hillyard –
Senator Millner –
Senator Reibe –
Senator Stevenson –


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