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$81 million in federal money for Utah schools at risk from standardized test opt out rates

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Timpanogos Academy, a charter school in Lindon, Utah, has a remarkable 72 percent of its students who have chosen not to take any standardized test given by the state.{ } (Photo: KUTV)

Timpanogos Academy, a charter school in Lindon, Utah, has a remarkable 72 percent of its students who have chosen not to take any standardized test given by the state.

The state of Utah gives yearly standardize tests to most of its students to gauge how well they are doing. However, in 2014, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow parents to “opt out” their children from these tests if they object to the testing.

The law was prompted by a movement of parents who rejected federal school requirements both past and present, including the controversial Common Core requirements.

Christel Swasey of Pleasant Grove is one of those parents. She has chosen to opt out her son, 8-year-old from taking any test offered by the state. She told 2News:

I don’t have any faith in the test; I don’t think it’s a valid measure of my child.

Swasey believes the tests are ineffective, too secretive, and she believes that the data collected by the government might be being used unethical or even illegally despite federal laws including, The Family Education and Privacy Act of 1974.

“It (the tests) also benefits the federal agenda, the federal priorities of control over us, and I’m not here to support that, I’m not here to let my child be a Guinea pig,” says Swasey.

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State Rep. Joel Briscoe (D-Salt Lake City) rejects that assertion. He said:

We love conspiracy theories, don’t we.

The representative says Utah’s opt-out rate is alarmingly high. At last count, as many as 6 percent of Utah students are not taking the state-sponsored assessments.

“How do we know how particular students, or a particular school, is doing if a significant number of the students in that school are not taking a test or assessments,” says Briscoe.

The 2News Beyond The Books investigative unit discovered Utah is dotted with schools with double digit opt-out rates.

  • In 2017, Olympus High had 27 percent of its students opt out.
  • Park City High School had nearly half of its students refuse to take the tests.
  • Utah Online had a jaw dropping 93 percent of its students opt out of the tests.

Numbers like that get the attention of the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education wants all schools to have an opt-out rate no higher than 5 percent.

Beyond the Books calculates that 22 percent of Utah schools do not live up to that standard.

In the past, the federal government has threatened to take away funding. Most recently, the feds took funding away from California that had too many schools that dropped below the benchmark.

However, that was under the Obama administration and experts say President Trump’s Education Department has not followed through with those past threats.

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If, however, a new administration comes into office, the possibility of lost funding could return. If that happened, $81 million in federal funding for Utah could be at risk.

All of this has prompted State Rep. Mike Winder (R-West Valley) to sponsor House Bill 118. It is a measure designed to get those opt-out rates down by giving kids extra credit options for taking state-sponsored tests.

Winder told 2News:

It’s hard to get an accurate picture of how our kids are doing in school. We still want to look and say ‘are these districts serving our kids well?’ And we don’t know that if we don’t have good data.

Swasey opposed the new bill and says she distrusts almost any assessment test, but despite that most Utah lawmakers want more kids to take the tests.

Winder’s bill passed out of the House by a vote of 58-14. Now it moves onto the state Senate.

Winder says Utah needs to know if the billions we spend on education is actually educating our kids.

“Everything, from school grades to evaluating how districts are doing, you have to have some standardized benchmark,” says Winder.