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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Kids spend a lot of time in school, and parents understandably want that time to be spent learning, and not taking tests. But how much of the school year is actually devoted to test-taking?

With that question in mind, Canyons District’s Research and Assessment Director Hal Sanderson recently performed an audit that revealed students spend between 1.2 percent to 2.7 percent of instruction time taking state and district assessments. By comparison, at one of CSD's elementary schools, recess accounts for 4.5 percent of the year, 12 percent is devoted to lunch and math instruction occupies 27.3 percent of the year.

The audit sheds some light on subject of over-testing, and calls into question commonly-held concerns about excessive testing. But there are limitations to the survey. This audit applies only to Canyons School District. Though all Utah school districts participate in state year-end assessments, district-level tests vary in form and scope. The audit also doesn’t measure the amount of time teachers spend incrementally testing students’ knowledge every day in their classrooms.

Teachers are constantly assessing their students’ progress and learning – even if they’re just calling upon students to furnish an answer to a math problem, says Instructional Supports Director Amber Roderick-Landward. “When done well, testing doesn’t distract from instruction, it’s an integral part of instruction.”

The amount of time devoted to testing has increased over the past few years, but will decline this year due to changes in the SAGE writing exam, and the consolidation of some district tests. With these changes, testing time will fall back in line with 2015 levels.

The audit was featured by KSL Radio and the Deseret News.

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Five Reasons Why
Assessments Matter


Canyons School District believes assessments, when appropriately administered and used, provide parents, teachers and administrators with important information about how a child is progressing.

1. Taking tests is a part of life. Whether it’s gaining entrance to college or passing the driver’s license exam, people take tests throughout their life.

2. Formative tests throughout the year help teachers see what is working, or not working, for students. Based on testing data, teachers can make adjustments in their instruction, such as taking extra time with specific topics or finding new ways to explain the content.

3. Year-end summative assessments, such as the SAGE exam, measure whether a student is on the path to college- and career-readiness. SAGE, which is administered in grades 3-10, is a gauge of whether students are meeting educational standards. These tests can help determine course placement. They can also assist the District and local school in directing resources to groups of students who need more support and determine if improvement strategies are working.

4. Testing can motivate students. Year-end exams are not the only measure of a student’s performance, but as one measure, they can help students take charge of their learning. In fact, when middle school students do their best on SAGE, their scores can predict how well they'll do on the ACT college entrace exam in high school. We know this because historically, CSD's students SAGE scores have closely correlated with their ACT scores. SAGE exams, in other words, are a low-stakes opportunity to see how a student will do on a high-stakes exam in a low-stakes environment. 

5. Year-end testing helps schools direct resources. Test results help educators, parents, and policymakers direct limited resources toward preparing all students for the rigors of college and careers.
Canyons School District students continue to outperform their Utah peers on most of the SAGE tests, in some areas by as many as 13 percentage points.

It’s an encouraging trend, driven by improved scores on most elementary and middle school tests.

“We continue to reap the dividends of major initiatives undertaken over the years,” said CSD’s Research and Assessment Director Hal Sanderson, Ph.D. “The data reflect the quality and hard work of our teachers, as well as the District’s unwavering focus on research-based instructional practices and the high standards embraced by our Board of Education.”

State SAGE results for the 2016-2017 school year are available for all school districts on the Utah State Board of Education website. 

Elementary Schools (3-5) 
In elementary schools, Canyons is well above the state average in all subject areas. The following shows the percentage of elementary students who tested proficient in 2016-2017:

English: CSD (59 percent), state (46 percent)
Math: CSD (62 percent), state (51 percent)
Science: CSD (58 percent), state (49 percent)

Middle Schools (6-8)
In middle schools, Canyons is well above the state average in all subject areas. The following shows the percentage of middle school students who tested proficient in 2016-2017:

English: CSD (53 percent), state (44 percent)
Math: CSD (49 percent), state (44 percent)
Science: CSD (62 percent), state (50 percent)

High Schools
Canyons District's high school scores for the 2016-2017 school year can’t reliably be compared to the state average, because for the first time, CSD’s 11th graders were not required to take the test. They took the ACT college entrance exam, instead.

Utah students took the state-mandated Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) tests for the first time in spring 2014. The tests were designed to measure more challenging state standards in mathematics, English language arts, and science. The SAGE tests are one of many measurements of student achievement. Other test data also show rising student achievement in Canyons School District.

Sanderson credits a number of initiatives, including: moving sixth-graders from elementary school to middle school where they receive more classroom instruction in core subjects; an effort to move teachers out of their silos to work as teams to monitor student progress; extensive professional development (half of all CSD teachers have a master’s degree); and the implementation of daily brain booster classes in art, physical education and STEM give teachers time to collaborate and hone their lesson plans.

“An ambitious construction plan to upgrade and modernize our schools also likely has played a role,” Sanderson says. “Classrooms built in the sixties and seventies with two electrical outlets are not conducive to the computerized demands of 21st century learning.”
Starting this week, all Canyons District parents will be able to access their students’ SAGE test results online. Results will be posted June 16, 2016 to the same Skyward Family Access accounts used for annual online registration. This will ensure that the information is kept secure while making it more immediately accessible to families now that school is out for the summer.


To access your Skyward account:

o   Visit http://www.canyonsdistrict.org.

o   Click on the Skyward link on the menu located on the right side of the screen. 

o   Choose the Family Access tab on the top left of the new window.

o   Use your guardian or student username and password to log in to Skyward Family Access.

o   Click on the “Portfolio” tab to view your child's SAGE results and your child’s report card.


Need help with Skyward Family Access? Here's a tutorial

Five CSD schools — Midvale Middle School and Sandy, Copperview, East Midvale, and Midvale elementary schools — have opted to provide parents with paper copies of their children’s SAGE test results. Paper-copy results will be mailed to parents on June 16, the same day they are posted to Skyward Family Access.

SAGE (Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence) is a state-mandated, computer adaptive year-end assessment designed to measure student progress against Utah’s educational standards. Information about the test and how to interpret results can be found here.  Should you have further questions, please ask your school leaders or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Two Canyons District elementary schools — Granite and Sunrise elementaries — were ranked in Utah’s top 25 highest-performing schools in all three subject areas of the 2015 statewide SAGE exam, with Granite Elementary ranked among Utah’s top five highest-performing schools.

Overall,  CSD schools appear 16 times in Utah’s Top 25 rankings of elementary, middle and high school student performance on the SAGE math, science, and English language arts exams, as published in the Deseret News on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. The News created top 25 lists for each school level (elementary, middle and high school) and tested subject.

From a districtwide perspective, CSD students overall showed growth in 20 of 25 tests administered over the past two years, and outperformed the state in 22 of 26 tests administered this year. This is the first year CSD administered the Math 3 test to high school students.

“We are pleased with the overall performance of Canyons students on the SAGE exams. We especially wish to congratulate our schools that have been ranked as among Utah’s best, as well as all of our teachers and school administrators for focusing on continued improvement in student achievement,” Canyons Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe said. “That said, we know that we still have work to do. The Administration is examining student SAGE performance in greater depth to determine how the data can be used improve student achievement across the board.”

In the Deseret News report, Granite Elementary was ranked in Utah’s top five highest-performing schools in all SAGE subjects tested. Granite ranked No. 5 in math with 78.8 percent proficiency; No. 3 in English language arts with 78.8 percent proficiency; and No. 2 in science with 80.3 percent proficiency.  The Salt Lake Tribune also listed Granite Elementary in the top 5 of all Utah schools’ performance in all three subject areas.

Sunrise Elementary was ranked No. 16 in math with 73 percent proficiency; No. 7 in English language arts with 72.5 percent proficiency; and No. 6 in science with 76.8 percent proficiency.

Among middle schools, CSD’s Draper Park ranked No. 5 in English language arts  with 62.8 percent proficiency and No. 5 in science with 73 percent proficiency.

Also breaking Utah’s top 10 are Brookwood Elementary, ranked No. 4 in science in science with 77.1  percent proficiency; and Willow Springs Elementary ranked No. 10 in English language arts in English language arts with 70.9 percent proficiency.

Albion Middle also appeared twice in Utah’s middle school rankings, as No. 22 in math and No. 17 in English language arts.

Other CSD schools appearing in the top 25 highest-performing schools are:
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