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Emily Pulley

Jackie Burr, Instructor

English 2010, Section 7

19 April 2018

The SAGE Test: What’s the Point?


Everywhere, educators, community leaders, business leaders, parents, and students are

frustrated with the current mathematics system in schools. Teachers are not being held

accountable for student learning. Students express negative stereotypes towards math. Parents

are annoyed with the complexity of their child's basic math homework. The three main things

affecting the current situation are cultural attitudes, teacher ability, and the math curriculum

itself. Difficulty in solving this problem arises because these three problems affect each other. In

order to effectively battle all three problems at the same time, the state of Utah needs to stop

using the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) Test.


The main reason many students struggle with math is not that students are not able to do

math, but rather that they have a bad attitude or low self confidence in their math ability.

National Numeracy, an organization in the UK, explains, “Negative attitudes, rather than a lack

of innate talent, are at the root of our numeracy crisis.” Elizabeth Felt, a specialist in elementary

math at Jordan School District, expressed that she believes math success is “more of a

disposition rather than a content” problem. She explains that students need to feel confident in

making mistakes so they can learn from their mistakes. Memes expressing frustration and low

confidence in math populate the internet. One such meme gave a two step solution for all math
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problems “1) write down the problem and 2) cry” (“How to”). These bad attitudes prevent

students from making the effort to develop a deep understanding of math. Instead, these attitudes

increase the belief that students are being forced to learn math for no reason. Students study to

pass the test, then forget it.

Low self confidence is another reason that students do not excel in math. Students

become nervous, which lowers their ability to answer correctly and open their minds to learn

new things. According to the Utah State Board of Education, Herriman High School has an “F”

grade as a school. Across all grades and all districts in Utah, only 46% of students scored

proficient in the math section of the SAGE test last year (“Jordan District”). According to these

numbers, all of our teachers stink, and our students are not math literate. However, these

numbers are not accurate and contributing to negative attitudes and low confidence in ability.

Another problem is that the SAGE test is taken in addition to other tests. This means that

students have to take even more test. Along with this, the computer format for the SAGE test is

confusing. According to elementary school teacher Debbie Nichols, “The SAGE test is simply

not a good test. Last spring I saw a little boy stare at his screen for 30 minutes. He knew the

correct answer was 1½, but he could not find a way to enter a mixed number to answer the

question. It couldn't be done on his computer.” Last year at Herriman High School, the juniors

were not required to take the SAGE test. Everyday leading up to and on the days the SAGE test

was happening, the classrooms were filled with the gloating of juniors bragging to the other

grades that they didn’t have to take it. When students realized that the SAGE doesn’t go on their

grades and is not significant enough to matter to employers or colleges, many others opted out.

As reported by The Associated Press, “The data also shows the number of students opting out of

the [SAGE] tests continues to increase, up 216 percent since the start of the testing program in
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2014.” This is evidence of how much the students want to avoid taking the tests. Using the

unimportant and unhelpful SAGE test to give our schools failing grades, does not improve the

school or student attitudes toward math.

Teacher Ability

The home page of the Jordan School District curriculum development website lists the

many high expectations and goals the school district has for the education it gives. One of these

goals is to hold teachers accountable for student learning. The SAGE test was supposed to

accomplish this goal. If the SAGE test is accurate, than at least half of our teachers need to be

fired because about half of our students are not proficient (“SAGE Results”). However, these

numbers are inaccurate. The high opt out rate is affecting the numbers. As the test does not go on

students’ grades, students are not pressured to do their best. This causes unacceptable inaccuracy.

Because the SAGE provides inaccurate numbers, no one knows how well the teachers are doing,

and there is no way to hold the teachers accountable. Teachers help the next generation grow,
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and deserve to be appreciated, but they are not perfect, and Utah needs to develop an effective

way to ensure that our teachers are the best they can be.

Additionally, teachers have so much content to go over in one year, that many are

struggling to go deep into

understanding any concept

because they have to go through

so much in one year. Felt

expresses, “It’s hard to get

through all of the content and give

all the content the same weight.”

She adds, “You really can’t just

focus on every piece of content in

the same manner.” One study

surrounding elementary school

learning explains, “One concern

that teachers have as they consider

how to incorporate engineering

into their early elementary

classrooms is time and resources”

(Tank, Kristina, et al.). When something is taught in a rush, students are not going to remember

it. This overbearing control the SAGE test places on the teachers is preventing deep learning and

wasting time.
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According to Melissa Garber, another elementary math specialist for Jordan School

District, the curriculum was decided using a combination of teachers, administrators and

community members on a committee who looked at multiple text and debated on them. They

actually took one year of trying out the decided text before making it official. A large amount of

effort went in to making the curriculum.

Making a good curriculum is difficult because there are many factors that go into how to

make a curriculum. One factor is the state standards that have to be met. The idea behind many

of these standards is that a child moving from Florida to Utah will be learning the same things

and not be behind or confused by completely different content. Another is the amount of content

that a teacher can go over in one year. As Felt clarifies, “A qualified teacher can adapt any

program… and any curriculum to focus on student needs… However a good quality curriculum

will provide resources for teachers who are not yet at that level to be able to distinguish which

lessons to choose from.” The curriculum is there to help teachers know what to teach, but it has

to allow teachers to adapt it for their students’ needs. The curriculum has to have texts that guide

without becoming overbearing.

The SAGE test has clearly failed to guide without becoming overbearing. Nichols

explains,”SAGE testing does not line up with the curriculum… The math section of the SAGE

test is really a reading test, which means one cannot distinguish computation from application

from vocabulary knowledge.” The SAGE test requires of teachers, much to their frustration, that

they teach things that they don’t believe is important. Although most of the basic standards work

well, there are some that are less so. Felt explains, “There are some pieces of the content that…
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don’t move beyond that grade level.” This means that some things that students are learning are

irrelevant in later years.


Bad attitudes, poor teacher ability, and overreaching curriculum all contribute to poor

math learning. These three problems influence each other. If the curriculum is overbearing, the

teacher ability and attitude will decrease. If the teacher has a bad attitude, the students will

develop one as well. If the students have a bad attitude, it is very difficult for the teacher to

improve the learning environment.

The SAGE test was designed to improve some of these problems, but failed at all of

them. The test is inaccurate, so it cannot measure teacher effectiveness. This means that teachers

are still not held accountable. Instead of helping, the SAGE test is an extra annoying hassle for

teachers and students alike. The students are annoyed at taking another test, and the teachers are

annoyed at being held to a test that doesn’t measure what it is supposed to. As Nichols asserts,

“The SAGE doesn’t help, it just dampens the love of learning.” Student have a bad attitude

about taking an extra test, Teachers are not being held accountable because the SAGE is not

accurate, and the overarching control of the SAGE is detrimental to learning.

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Works Cited

Felt, Elizabeth. Personal Interview. 11 April 2018

Garber, Melissa. Personal Interview. 11 April 2018

“How to Do Math.” We Know Memes. 25 April 2013. Web. 17 April 2018

“Jordan District School Grades.” Data Gateway, Utah State Board of Education, 2018, Web. 17

April 2018.

“Jordan School District Curriculum and Staff Development.” Jordan School District. 2018. Web.

17 April 2018.

National Numeracy, “Attitudes Towards Maths: Research and Approach Overview,” Phoenix

House, National Numeracy. Web. 18 April 2018.

Nichols, Debbie. “A Teacher's Opinion of the SAGE Test.”, Deseret News, 1

Nov 2014. Web. 18 April 2018.

“SAGE Results for Jordan District.” Data Gateway, Utah State Board of Education, 2018,

Web. 17 April 2018.

Tank, Kristina, et al. "Hamsters, Picture Books, and Engineering Design." Science and Children,

vol. 50, no. 9, 01 July 2013, pp. 59-63. Web. 17 April 2018.

The Associated, Press. Utah Students' SAGE Test Scores Drops in All Subjects. AP Regional

State Report - Utah, Associated Press DBA Press Association, 09/12/2017. Web. 17 April