SAGE Test Question: How are books bad and video games good?

A parent posted this in the Utahns Against Common Core Facebook group (join here: She got off the phone with a friend whose 11th grade daughter took the SAGE test yesterday and said one of her essay questions in the exam was:

“How are books bad and why should we focus more on video games because you can control them unlike books? Books discriminate against those who cannot read well and they dictate what you should think.”

Lets see, what’s the purpose of this question? Are you going to argue against the statement given to you? Or are you going to play along and write what the SAGE folks have given you? What’s going to be recorded in this child’s P20W database that SAGE tests provide behavioral data for?

A couple years of these tests and the government will know exactly who the resistor’s and the sheep are. It’s no wonder they don’t want parents and teachers to see these exams. Nothing should be in-between the tester and the testee to introduce a bias against the questions being presented. They need that behavioral data.

Another parent posted:

“A Davis County mother told me her 4th grader has been practicing in class and each prompt gives them three “facts” that they then have to write a 5 paragraph essay on. One prompt was about the Flu off 1918 and these were its facts (with my paraphrasing):
1. Many people died from the flu of 1918
2. The flu virus can mutate
3. It is important that I get the flu vaccine
Basically, it was two facts and one opinion. Not trying to start a debate about flu shots , but should #3 really be a “fact”?”

Another parent posted a couple links to ACT website. The first link describes how ACT Explore is being replaced by ACT Aspire.

In April 2014, ACT will launch our new student readiness assessment system—ACT Aspire™the first computer-based, longitudinal assessment system that connects student growth and progress from the elementary grades through high school in the context of college and career readiness.”

Going to the Aspire page we read this:

“To meet this challenge, ACT is developing ACT Aspire—the first digital, longitudinal assessment system to fully connect student performance from elementary grades through high school. ACT Aspire will provide educators and parents with the insights they need to help students get and stay on track by better connecting assessment to teaching and learning.

ACT Aspire will include summative assessments that measure how much students have learned over time, as well as aligned classroom-based assessments that help educators better understand students’ learning needs in individual classes throughout the school year. The aligned assessments will inform teachers about students’ progress toward specific learning standards, so they can better tailor their instruction and resources to help students learn.

ACT research shows the direct link between early assessment and intervention and the improved likelihood of students succeeding in school and reaching their college and career goals. ACT Aspire will help educators identify foundational skill deficiencies earlier, which will provide the opportunity to quickly address weaknesses and build on strengths.”

Why is there such an alignment of standards, testing, curriculum, and intervention taking place? [Get out your tin-foil hat and put it on…]  Can you imagine an essay question on evolution where it is presented a fact that man evolved from pond scum and asked students to write an essay taking that single-sided point of view? What if a child resists and states a belief in God? Will there eventually be an intervention to help children not believe in God and “fairy tales” and straighten them out? Presenting one sided arguments and having children write from that perspective does NOT lead to critical thinking skills. It’s the exact opposite. It is indoctrinating and stupifying (to borrow a term from Harry Potter).

Homeschooling and private schools that do not receive state or federal money and don’t participate in Common Core, are your only safe havens. But even with that, most colleges require students take the ACT or SAT in order to get in. There are a number of colleges that don’t require those things, and even BYU has let students in without those tests.

The first step for safety is opting your children completely out of all computer adaptive tests including practice tests.  Get off them now. If your charter school has a contract you signed, get out of the charter school. They are worried about their school’s grade from the state more than what is wrong with the system. If you can’t do it this year, do it next. Move toward homeschooling if you can. It’s easier than you think and there are some great programs available online that are totally independent of Common Core.

SAGE tests affect grades 3 and up. AIR that provides this test, is a behavioral testing company. They are not an academic testing company. They are trained psychologists looking for behavioral information in the midst of academics.

Here’s more reasons why you must opt your child out now, including more inappropriate SAGE questions.

If you have questions and fears about opting out and what it means for your child, check out this post and the 2 links at the bottom for Q&A with Alpine SD Board member Wendy Hart.

Some districts are pressuring parents to not pull their children out.

I’ve had a couple emails asking about Dr. Menlove’s letter he said he would write, regarding opting out. He emailed me yesterday and he’s waiting to see if the governor signs SB 122 on parental rights which includes the opt-out for parents. IF YOU HAVEN’T CALLED THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE YET, DO IT IMMEDIATELY. IF HE DOESN’T SIGN THIS BILL IT SIGNIFICANTLY HURTS THE ABILITY OF PARENTS TO OPT-OUT. Call 801-538-1000 between 8 and 5.

This is Dr. Menlove’s full reply. Again, call the governor to sign SB 122. Then go to the April 4th state board meeting and tell them you want schools and teachers to have no penalty for parents that opt out.

Mr. Norton,

Let me update you on my response to your request.

I prepared a document and shared it with State Board leadership as I previously indicated.

As the Legislative session came to an end, the State Board and USOE leadership identified bills passed by the 2014 Legislature that may be problematic to implement or create some other concern with State Board members.  This list included S.B. 122.  The concern with this legislation is section (9)(b) that basically says that opting-out by a student does not negatively impact school grading or employee evaluations.  Our current policy on opting-out could negatively impact both school grading and teacher evaluations.  As such it would be impossible to implement this new Code under our existing opt-out policies.    In fact, I am not certain what policy we may adopt that would fully support this new section of the Code.

Last Friday the State Board met to consider possible action on this S.B 122 and a couple of other bills.  The result of the discussion on this Bill was that the Board would revisit the USOE policy on opting-out.   Yesterday State School Board leadership met to set the agenda for the State School Board meeting on April 4, 2014.  It was determined that this item should be considered by the Board on April 4th.  Whereas Board action on April 4th may alter the current opt-out policies, I have determined that it is best for me to wait until after the April 4th meeting to issue any statement.

I apologize for this unintended delay.  I recognize that there continues to be confusion and inconsistency in information being shared about opting-out.  However, for me to issue a statement now and then have to alter that after April 4th, in my opinion, would only add to the existing confusion.

I will issue a clarifying document ASAP following the April 4th State Board meeting.

Martell Menlove

After asking him to encourage the state board to decouple SAGE exams from school and teacher ratings, he replied:

State law requires that student achievement data be use for both school grading and teacher evaluations. As such, I do not see any way to decouple SAGE from these State law mandated activities. This is my major concern with how to implement these programs fairly while honoring the right of parents to opt-out. Although opting-out has the potential for impacting federal reporting and funding, my major concern is with grading schools and evaluating teachers as mandated in Utah Code.


I replied that “I’m certain there are alternatives like NAEP or the IOWA tests or the old California Achievement Tests we could use. The computer adaptive tests and SAGE in particular are a real problem for a lot of people.”

State Code 53A-1-603 requires the administration of criterion referenced tests or online computer adaptive tests and then goes on to allocate funding for computer adaptive tests and outlines how those tests are to be administered.  I do not believe the State Board has the option of not administering computer adaptive tests.


To which I replied: “But under state law, parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the education of their children and if they choose to opt them out of tests, that is up to them. Schools are to play a secondary and supportive role. So regardless of SB 122, the state board should fully support the ability of a parent to opt their child out of tests. Parents are the consumers and have the authority and responsibility to determine what is in their child’s education interest.”

Get your SAGE opt out form here:


27 thoughts on “SAGE Test Question: How are books bad and video games good?”

  1. Hi, what time is the April 4th board meeting, and where?
    Are we able to prepare a public comment there, and what are the requirements for time, registering to do so, etc.
    Let’s rally the troops and have our voices heard!

    1. If you want to speak, I just called the board at 801-538-7517 and spoke with Lorraine. She is the one to call to reserve a spot to speak. Public comments will be at 10:40 according to what she said. The meeting starts at 10:30.

        1. No, the state board hears from me enough. They all hate me already. :) We need fresh voices so they see it’s not just “Oak and a few minions” who are upset. They need to feel the heat from others too.

          1. My name is James Winter. Gabriel and Jasmine Winter live with their mother in Kaysfield, UT. I live in Sao Paulo with my 2nd wife and kids. Gabriel and Jasmine are taking the SAGE tests and I am unable to make a strong showing from South America on my kids behalf in regards to Common Core. I can’t make a stand and tell the State Board what I think so I am asking someone to do it on MY behalf… I won’t start in on how awful Common Core is or the tests that surround it…I think they’re awful and want my kids to be able to opt out..I am just not present in order to make that stand at the meeting…can someone please tell my story at the board meeting on the 4th?

  2. The law was recently changed so a school will not receive a failing grade for participation less than 95%.

    260 (3) [A school shall receive an F] The board shall lower a school’s grade by one letter
    261 grade if:
    262 (a) student participation in a statewide assessment is fewer than 95%; or
    263 (b) the participation of nonproficient students as determined by prior year test scores is
    264 fewer than 95%.

  3. Please, please tell me how I can see the questions on my children’s tests like some of these parents have been able to do??

    1. Have your child take in a cell phone with a camera that doesn’t flash. Covert ops…

      Or know the teacher really well and get him/her to let you glance at the test questions.

      1. I’m worried, Oak, that your solution is to break ethical guidelines in order to undermine the test. Are advocating dishonest practices in order to protest what you see as dishonest practices? That does not seem like a positive solution in my mind.

          1. No, in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have typed that. I was probably upset at the time. I’m not advocating that. But I do feel strongly that parents have a full and total right to know what their children are being tested on. Parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the education of their children. One mom that we previously posted her story was in a classroom and the teacher let her see the question her child was being asked and she immediately pulled her child out of the classroom test because she felt it was inappropriate. The question was “who should control your access to media, your parents, the government, or another corporation?” That’s one of the most inappropriate questions I’ve heard of and it was given to 8th graders. If this parent didn’t happen to be there at that moment, she never would have known what her child was being subjected to.

        1. Also, having a picture of a test question doesn’t undermine the test. Knowing the questions beforehand and being able to prepare for the test can undermine it, but noting what’s being asked to talk about it later with someone doesn’t undermine it.

          1. I am an 8th grade teacher, and the prompt you refer to was not actually part of the SAGE testing. It was the Utah state writing assessment called the Direct Writing Assessment and had nothing to do with SAGE or AIR (Unlike the “Utah core,” this really was something developed by Utah alone). The Direct Writing Assessment is/was the state-run writing assessment that students have been writing for at least 10 years (different prompt every year). With the advent of SAGE, I’m pretty sure this will be its last year, and I am actually okay with that. I think the SAGE assessment is better vetted and the content is more thought through.

            That said, I didn’t have an issue with that particular prompt. I thought the accompanying essays were not very helpful, but I thought is was a good topic because it was something students have thought a lot about, and it hadn’t occurred to me that parents might be upset by it. My assumption now is that you found it inappropriate because controlling access to media is a decision parents should make, and that the state was implying that there might be other acceptable restriction options. Is that correct? Or is the problem that the topic might make the students feel all media restrictions are wrong and that home restrictions are unjust? Or is the idea of restricting access to media a taboo subject students should not be thinking about whatsoever?

            I think this issue goes beyond SAGE, AIR, and CCSS altogether. The issue is a disconnect between what parents, teachers, and the state/FEDs all find appropriate for students to write about–particularly when it comes to argumentative writing (taking a stand on an issue and then backing it up with evidence). I really want to understand which issues are making parents upset. Every year, I have my students write at least 3-4 argumentative essays, and I’ve never had parents complain about the topics (School uniforms, 4-day school week, tablets instead of textbooks, additional school sport options, FLEX policies, cell phone policies in school, requiring homework, etc…). But if those same prompts were created by SAGE/AIR, I have the feeling there might be backlash. It is extremely difficult creating prompts that matter to students without being controversial, and I want to be sensitive to parental concerns.

            I was part of the panel of teachers who vetted the 6th-8th grade questions (and I will be this year as well). I thought we did a decent job. I recognize that many people on this site will oppose SAGE/AIR regardless of the prompts, but we will still need to come up with at least 120 new prompts this coming year (6 argumentative and 6 informational at each grade level), and I want to know which topics are taboo for teachers/SAGE to ask about. I hope we all agree that argumentative writing is a fundamental skill. If not for argumentative writing, this site would not be possible. I also agree that parents should have as much say as possible on issues that should not be discussed in school. Therefore, would it be possible to open up a new page on issues the state should not be asking about? It would be great if we could use this site and the input of the many here who contribute to improve state testing in general. I feel I am in a position to help make that happen.

    2. You submit an application through your senator, representative and school board. Right now five from each group are selected to review. We were hoping that could have been 10-12 each. This is the first state to allow parents to vet the test questions prior to implementation.

      Another panel was legislated this last session, which I feel is much more imperative than the testing. It is the standards panel. IMO, the standards determine the test which in turn pretty much determine the curricula and materials. IMO, some of the environmental standards need to be updated and vetted. Especially with the new revealing information we are given.

      I am reaching off the top of my head but there are about 136 parents selected to review all the standards. It is purely voluntary- no compensation involved or kick backs. And I promise it is time consuming.
      So contact USOE, your representative and your senator and let them know you are interested. Those currently on the parent panel for testing are quite a diverse bunch. But what is nice is that we don’t all see eye to on a lot of things- we all strongly feel the children are the most important.

  4. For the sake of appearing pro test, which I believe every parent should decide for themselves. I will deliver a few facts having been on the parent panel to review the test. Having asked the panel if the rumored question texted by the 11th grade student to her mother (who then posted it on Facebook) was seen by anyone, the responses were negative. None of those who responded saw a question scripted or with the tone as delivered above. First the grammar was horrendous. The 11th grade essay requires the following: thesis, three supporting items for their chosen thesis and a conclusion. Since many students freeze up and have difficulty coming up with supportive items for the questions, The students are given a for and against text to help them create their own supportive text. I reviewed essay questions and never saw questions with this kind of tone. The second rumored example, has been a CRT practice example before. I have seen prior to the adaptive testing Utah has taken on.

    Many at the school board feel the same about the attachment of the test to school grading. You can thank Senator Stephenson for this.

    Also, make sure you are representing public/charter schools. Those who are involved with third party entities such as Harmony and MyTech High are under a separate contract. The parents signed contracts such that they would allow testing in order to get the funding for their alternative choices in education. The USOE can do nothing yet about these third party contracts. This will have to be legislated. Most of the charter schools associated with third party contractors have received notification that they must allow for opt out with the new consequences listed. This will trickle down as you well know eliminating the funds for the third party providers because the charters will need the percentages.

    1. Kim – I have an 11th grader in Wasatch and without knowing about the FB conversation he reported the same question about video games. He said lots of kids at his school are talking about that essay question. According to the students here there were three articles and all of them were biased towards video games being better than books and then the students were supposed to write an essay question on the topic.

      My son’s essay prompt was different. He read three articles discussing the pros and cons of renting a home versus buying a home. He said all three articles were slanted toward renting a home. For the essay they had to discuss whether it would be more advantageous to rent or own a home.

  5. So it is definite. Teacher evaluations are to be tied to test scores…Let the fighting for the best students begin. While it sounds good on the surface to have teachers evaluated, rewarded, punished, etc. based on their students test scores, it is potentially very divisive for schools. It has acted as a catalyst for administrator and teacher led cheating in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and other places. It is perhaps the biggest reason that New York teachers now want out of the common core.

    I don’t think the majority of Utah teachers know this–tying evaluations to test scores–is coming.

    1. In the early days of warning teachers this was coming, most were pro-Common Core and ridiculed us…

      I know one teacher in ASD who, a few years ago, was already experiencing this phenomenon when one teacher down the hall got all the top students assigned to his class, while this teacher got all the low performers from the year before. The games played by teachers and administrators is just as sickening as Enron or any other big corporate scandal.

    2. Yep. Teachers know it. And many are frustrated and waiting it out hoping that the scores will be tied to progress through the adaptive testing rather than who knows the most.

      IMO- The adaptive testing might allow for this in about four years. There isn’t enough questions so far in the bank to prove fair, in my honest opinion. I don’t have the numbers on hand but I can get them. But for sake of explaining, there are a certain number of questions needed for a test to have valid results per grade level to determine student progress and levels. For those familiar with Khan academy if you look at their sequence map, you may be able to understand the complexity of the web. Currently there are about 9,500 questions for all the grade levels. This is not nearly enough.

    3. Teacher and school scores are mostly tied to student improvement, not overall test performance. This makes our focus on improving scores rather than padding them with successful students. A few teachers have tried that only to find it backfire for them. Whether we teach AP or remedial, all teachers are motivated to improve student performance. I think grading on improvement is a fair practice. The entire school rating system is fairly complicated, but I would be happy to explain if anyone is still reading this strand. Let me know.

  6. Oak, would you consider making a post specific to how to be one of the parent reviewers? If we can rally enough like minded people to review it, we can make a difference.

  7. Whoa, step back, SAGE is not even a part of the common core, the common core is simply a set of standards that students should be able to achieve by the end of the grade. Furthermore it is not even run by the government, it is run by the utah state board of education.

    1. Michael, before posting something like this, you should really do some research. Rather than tell you the answers, let me give you a homework assignment because it’ll be more meaningful if you discover the knowledge for yourself, just like kids under Common Core math are supposed to.
      What is SAGE?
      What is their origin?
      Who runs the SAGE test?
      How does the company that runs the SAGE test related to SBAC?
      How is SBAC tied to Common Core?
      Where does SBAC get their funding?
      Who is the senior researcher for SBAC?
      Who recommended her to President Obama to be his education secretary?
      Where do SAGE test questions come from?
      Who vetted the SAGE questions?
      Who lied to the Utah legislature that the review panel found no problems and completely signed off on the SAGE questions?
      Do you know that on this site we say very little about the Common Core standards themselves, but mostly about the agenda behind them?
      If you let someone else set their own standards, but control the tests for those standards, and don’t let teachers see the tests and inform teachers that they are going to be evaluated on these tests they can’t see, will teachers teach to the tests or to the individual student’s needs?
      What is psychometric testing and how does that relate to SAGE?
      Why does Common Core mandate behavioral testing of students?
      Why did the federal government give Utah $9 million to set up a statewide longitudinal database tracking system that recommends 500 data points for every child from preschool, through college, and into the workforce?
      Please come back when you can answer those questions. I would like to know what conclusions you draw.

  8. i am doing a project for my school about what we think the biggest problem of utah is. I was wondering if i could ask you a few questions please respond if you can

    1. Yes, I tried to email you but your email address bounced back. You can email oak at oaknorton dot com.

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