HB118: Bill would provide incentive for students taking standardized tests

Lexie Flickinger
A bill being discussed in the 2019 General Legislative Session would make it possible for teachers to give academic rewards to students who score well on standardized testing. Legislators hope this would encourage students to take the tests more seriously. (Lexie Flickinger)

A bill aiming to promote better student effort on standardized tests would give teachers the option of using the scores to improve students’ grades.

Statewide standardized tests aid officials in deciding which schools should receive resources. Under current code, teachers are not allowed to use standardized test scores when grading students.

HB118 sponsor Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley, said his bill “legalizes the carrots, while still forbidding the sticks and empowers a teacher, who determines grades anyway in a classroom, to provide academic rewards if a student does well on their standardized test.”

Teachers would be allowed to let student proficiency “count for something” grade-wise, according to Winder.

The bill would not impose penalties on students who perform poorly on the tests and students would still have the option to opt out of standardized assessments.

“For example, an English teacher might say to little Billy, ‘Hey, you didn’t do so well on that last English test, but the standardized test is coming up. If you can demonstrate some proficiency there, then maybe you drop that last test,’” Winder said.

Winder, a father of four, said his children do not always try their hardest on standardized tests because their performance does not impact their grade. Other students might try to sabotage a disliked teacher by purposefully performing poorly because teachers are evaluated based on their students’ scores.

Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, said the bill would improve the integrity of statewide score statistics.

“I think it will improve the outcome of our state testing to really know where we are and the ways that we can improve, but on an individual basis, I think it also incentivizes each child to learn the benefit of doing their best and being able to progress in their own academic spheres,” Ballard said.

Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, said he was concerned for students like “little Sally, the elementary school student with test anxiety disorder who throws up in the garbage can every time she takes a test longer than 90 minutes.”

According to Winder, students like Sally would still be able to opt out of taking the test. Teachers would only be able to reward students who perform well, not penalize students who fall short.

“So little Sally might not do well on that test and she still may need to take the final in that class,” Winder said. “But let’s say little Jose did poorly on the midterm. This would be an opportunity for him to take another test that he’s going to be taking anyway, if he’s part of the 93 percent of Utahans taking that test, and to have it count for something while not penalizing Sally at all.”

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, shared her experience about the many standardized tests she administered as a teacher.

“I found it very, very frustrating that it was very hard to encourage the kids to care about them,” Poulson said. “When I used to administer these tests before we did it on computers we’d have the bubbles and my students would see what kind of designs they could make — a butterfly, or a wasp, or dragon fly or something, rather than taking the test seriously.”

She said she believed the bill would “strike a good balance” combating this problem.

“Here in the state of Utah, we’re spending an awful lot of money on public education, and as an MBA by background, I know that if we can’t measure, we can’t manage,” Winder said. “Right now, there’s an awful lot of noise in the data because of students not trying their best on these tests.”

This bill is supported by the Utah Parent Teacher Association, the Utah School Superintendents Association, the Utah School Boards Association, the Utah Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Utah.

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