In a few weeks, students throughout Utah will begin taking SAGE tests, those end-of-year exams that show how much students have learned over the course of the year. Why do schools test? What do the results mean, and why should students and parents care?

Answers to these questions and more can be found on a new Canyons District resources page. Anyone curious about the how’s and why’s of testing is encouraged to browse the site, which contains teacher testimonials, infographics, and step-by-step instructions for obtaining and interpreting your child’s test results.

“Testing has always been integral to education. Assessments inform instruction by helping teachers know if educational goals are being met,” explains CSD Research and Assessment Director Hal Sanderson. “They’re an indicator of what’s working in the classroom and what can be done differently. Testing also gives parents a measure of their child’s learning, which along with grades and other measures helps answer the question: Is my child on target and doing well compared to his or her peers?”   

But did you also know that a student’s performance on SAGE in middle school can predict how well he or she will do on the ACT college entrance exam in high school? SAGE, in other words, gives middle schoolers a glimpse at how they’ll do on a high-stakes test in a low-stakes environment when they still have time to go back and re-learn foundational concepts.

Another surprising fact: Very little of the school year is devoted to test-taking. A recent internal audit revealed that Canyons District students spend just 1.2 percent to 2.7 percent of instruction time taking state and district assessments. By comparison, at one sampled Canyons District elementary school, recess accounted for 4.5 percent of the year, 12 percent was devoted to lunch and math instruction occupied 27.3 percent of the year.



This year, the District has made adjustments to further reduce the testing burden on students. The writing exam will take half as long, which along with other changes, should enable us to complete the testing much more quickly, Sanderson says.

The computer adaptive assessments of today have, however, evolved beyond the “bubble” exams of your childhood. One helpful test-taking tip for parents to keep in mind is to remind children that if the test questions seem hard, that means they’re doing well. Just like the ACT college entrance exam, the SAGE test is computer adaptive, which means it adapts to the examinee’s abilities by proposing harder questions when a student gets something correct, and easier questions when the student gives a wrong answer.

As Mount Jordan Middle teacher Kory Crockett explains: “We all know that tests can be stressful. Tests can be hard. But it’s really these hard things in life that help us grow the most. And especially with these end-of-the year tests, they don’t just tell us how much we’ve grown, they tell us how much we’ve grown as a school.”

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As a precautionary measure, Canyons District is pulling all lettuce from meals served in school cafeterias until American health officials declare that an E.coli scare is over. 

The outbreak, which has sickened dozens of people in up to 11 states so far, began in mid-March and may have been caused by bagged and pre-chopped lettuce grown in the Yuma, Ariz., region and distributed to retailers across the country. 

While no Utahn is one of the 35 cases, Canyons District is erring on the side of caution. For the health and safety of students and employees, the lettuce that had been purchased for regularly schedule meals will be discarded. 

CSD’s Nutrition Services Department had ordered 32 cases of chopped lettuce and 22 cases of head lettuce for upcoming menus, said CSD Nutrition Services Director Sebasthian Varas.

Menus containing lettuce will either be modified or lettuce will be omitted from the food item, Varas said. Students were informed today that salads will not be served. 

The majority of those who have fallen ill reported eating romaine lettuce within a week of feeling such E.coli-related sickness symptoms as abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and fevers. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is urging all U.S. consumers who have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home to throw it away, even if it has been partially eaten and no one became ill. The CDC also says that consumers, before purchasing lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, should confirm it is not chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma region. 

Varas says the recent egg recall over salmonella does not impact the District.
Last summer, Calena Slesser's sister was struck and nearly killed by a car while crossing the street. As her parents shifted their focus to hospital visits, medical consultations and rehabilitative care, Calena fell into the role of caregiver to her younger siblings. 

It was a lot to shoulder for any high school senior, much less for someone who was putting in extra hours to get back on track academically. But no matter what personal and family hardships Calena has faced, she’s done so with grace and strength, never losing sight of her goal of graduating in the hopes of pursuing a college degree.

“She has fire in her belly and she has hope,” says Canyons School District’s Student Advocacy and Access Director Karen Sterling. “My hope for her would be that she continues on this high of realizing she can do hard things, and that she can make a future for herself and find within herself the strength to rise above any challenge.”

For her persistence in the face of adversity, Calena was chosen to receive the Canyons Education Foundation's premier $2,500 Rising Star Scholarship at the Foundation's seventh annual Spring Gala on Thursday, April 19. This year, the Foundation awarded a record $11,000 in college scholarships to nine deserving students. 



At the event, which was held to generate funding for future scholarships, the Foundation also launched a new campaign to raise money to subsidize the cost of tuition for Canyons District teachers who are furthering their own education by enrolling in master’s and doctoral degree programs. “The Foundation works with community leaders and businesses to secure resources to fuel innovation in the classroom and help students realize their dreams. An important piece of the equation is supporting teachers in their efforts to grow professionally and improve their teaching practice,” says Foundation Officer Laura Barlow. “Many factors contribute to student success, but nothing matters more than having a passionate and highly-skilled teacher in the classroom.”

Not too long ago, Calena — whose family had been uprooted by financial and housing insecurities — was struggling to wake at 5 a.m. to catch a bus every day to school. Today, the 18-year-old plans to enroll at Salt Lake Community College, boasts a 4.0 grade point average for the term, and is working with her peers to start a student council at Diamond Ridge, Canyons District’s alternative high school.

Thankful for the close mentoring she received at Diamond Ridge, she says she wanted to give something back: “Everyone there is super supportive. They all want you to graduate and to succeed.”

Smart and tenacious, she’s “very generous with her time and talents and helps other students who are struggling,” says her math and financial literacy teacher Wendy Quigley. “She is one of those kids who could go really, really far given the opportunity.”

Congratulations to Calena and the following Bright Star Scholarship winners:

  • Alta High: Olivia Steadman
  • Brighton High: McKayla Dumas
  • Corner Canyon High: Sam Aamodt
  • Hillcrest High: Marthe Mfourou
  • Jordan High: Vanesa Beers
  • Jordan High: Makayla Wright 
  • Mountain America Scholar: Emily Arthur

Canyons Foundation Gala Photos
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  • Misty Suarez doesn’t mince words. She believes there is no better place to teach special education than Utah’s Canyons School District (CSD).

    “We have it all: Competitive salaries, coaching supports, professional development, and a focus on innovation coupled with the resources to help make it happen,” says Canyons District’s Special Education Director. “And there are as few places as safe, affordable and beautiful as the Wasatch Front to live, work, and raise a family. It’s the full package.”

    CSD also has plenty of special ed job openings — 16 full-time positions and 12 part-time paraeducator positions — and as an added incentive to fill them, a new stipend for qualified special education teachers. “Like most states, we’re grappling with a teacher shortage that is especially acute in special education, math and science. The greatest need we have is in our elementary schools,” Suarez says. “The $4,100 stipend recently approved by state lawmakers will give us a real recruiting edge.”

    Teaching is a demanding job, even for the most skilled educators, and particularly for those who work in special education. Special education teachers need to be adept at planning, writing goals, developing interventions, and meeting timelines.

    But Canyons District’s Special Education Teacher Specialist Stacey Nofsinger says the rewards of the job far outweigh the demands. “There is nothing better than seeing your student finally grasp a concept that maybe you were working on for six weeks or six months. …to finally see them say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what you meant?’ It’s very exciting to be part of that educational journey for kids.”



    For her, the job is more of a calling than a career, and now she delights in supporting others who have chosen the same path. The New York native chose Utah’s Canyons School District because of the District’s investment in teacher supports, such as the coaching she now provides.

    Now, to further sweeten the deal, the Utah Legislature has approved a $4,100 yearly stipend for special education teachers with a bachelor’s or advanced degree in special education. This comes on top of a double-digit percentage increase in teacher pay approved last year by Canyons District’s Board of Education. 

    “As a teacher, we still need to keep learning for our students and to implement our own best practices. And Canyons District’s philosophy in making sure their teachers are modeling that and continuing their own education and getting that professional development on a regular basis really spoke to my own philosophies in education,” Nofsinger says. For more information about the stipend click here.

    Find out what Canyons District has to offer you at this stage in your career: canyonsdistrict.org/hr
    If rebuilding a high school is a major undertaking, try tackling three at once. This summer, construction crews will begin work on rebuilds of Brighton and Hillcrest high schools along with a major renovation of Alta High.

    Architectural firms, with input from students, parents, employees and community leaders, have been hard at work shaping plans for the improvement projects — the largest and most complicated of many more to be financed by the $283 million bond approved by voters in 2017. At Open Houses in the coming weeks, community members will have a chance to preview the still-developing plans (see the schedule of events below).

    “This is such an exciting time for the District,” says Canyons District Board of Education President Sherril H. Taylor. “We’re not just building schools, we’re building communities. With the completion of these projects, all of our high schools will be brought up to a high quality facilities standard. The safety and technological upgrades will improve the learning environments for generations of students, including the children of those now enrolled. It’s a momentous undertaking, and one that wouldn’t be possible without our patrons.”

    The high schools will be built in phases over 2-3 years so as to allow them to remain in operation during the construction. Tackling all three at once is ambitious, but in order to keep costs contained, it was imperative to get to work as quickly as possible, says CSD’s Business Administrator Leon Wilcox.

    Construction costs have soared, and are expected to continue to rise in the near future, Wilcox says. “We want to lock-in costs now on the largest and most complicated bond projects.”

    Each project varies according to the priorities established by the school communities. But among common focuses are school safety, sustainability, and futuristic thinking. Wilcox says, “We’re building these schools to last and to accommodate the rapidly changing technological demands and instructional practices of modern classrooms.”

    Careful attention is also being paid to preserve recent investments, such as the schools’ new football stadiums. Taking cues from research on the health and learning benefits of natural light, large windows and skylights are planned for commons areas and classrooms.

    Since Canyons’ inception, the District has worked to address the safety and technological deficiencies of the aging buildings it received from a previous school district while also planning for growth. The 13th and final project financed with proceeds from a bond approved by voters in 2010 — the renovation of Indian Hills Middle — will be completed in time for start of the 2018-2019 school year.

    Everyone is invited to attend the community Open Houses to showcase plans for the high schools. There will be presentations by architects, and an opportunity to submit questions and comments. The dates, times and locations are as follows:

    Brighton High School
    Tuesday, April 17 at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium
    Featuring MHTN Architects

    Hillcrest High School 
    Wednesday, April 18 starting at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium
    Featuring FFKR Architects

    Alta High School
    Wednesday, April 25, 7-9 p.m. in the Auditorium
    VCBO Architecture
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