It is common to use test scores that only measure minimum comprehension levels, like Utah’s Criterion Referenced Tests (CRT), to measure the performance of schools. However, most parents want to see measures of excellence at a school, not just a measure of how well that school barely succeeded. That is why it was refreshing to see the front-page article in the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin describing how more Tooele Valley students are taking the College Board Advanced Placement tests (“More students take advanced placement classes, pass rate lags behind,” Nov. 8).
In June, the Deseret News published a list titled “50 Worst-Scoring High Schools in Utah,” and all three of the Tooele Valley high schools were on it. At No. 15, Tooele High School was the lowest, No. 31 Stansbury was in the better half of the worst, and Grantsville came in at No. 28.
The Deseret News used CRT scores so the ranking is by relative levels of mediocrity. I’m sure there are people who argue that their school’s mediocrity is better than someone else’s, but many parents would rather know about excellence.
In the Nov. 8 article, the Transcript only reported pass/fail rates for the AP test scores. This was probably done in the interest of decreasing word count, but it left important aspects of the Tooele students’ excellence in the editor’s circular file. A value of 3 is passing, but some students earn scores as high as 5’s on their tests. Some students also score highly enough on multiple tests to earn an “AP Scholar” designation.
The designation “AP Scholar with Honor” is granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams. In Utah, 861 students were awarded “AP Scholar with Honor.” One of these was my daughter, Mirae, who earned the award by achieving 5’s on all four of the AP tests she took last year.
In order to earn this award as a 10th grader, Mirae had to leave the Tooele County School District and begin riding the UTA bus into West High School every day. This is because while THS has 12 AP courses listed in its catalog, it does not reliably offer them all.
West scored only slightly better than THS on the Deseret News list, coming in at No. 17. So there is little difference between the mediocrity of THS and West. However, on U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the college readiness of students at high schools nationwide, West earned a 34.6 while THS was given an 8. While only about half of the AP tests taken by THS students were passed, the West pass rate was almost 80 percent. West also has more merit scholars, and higher SAT scores.
In fact, take any measure of excellence — as opposed to mediocrity — and West does much better than the entire Tooele County School District combined.
This year there are several more students that go into West from the Tooele Valley. West is only open to out-of-district students who can display the aptitude to excel. The school has a program called ELP (early learning program) that is a junior high program of excellence, and the last opportunity to prove aptitude for entrance into the 2014 ELP is coming up soon. There is one test on Nov. 30, and the last one is on Dec. 7.
There are many Tooele Valley students who can excel if given the chance, but they may have to look beyond the Tooele County School District to get the opportunity to prove it. Larger numbers of Tooele Valley parents are looking for excellence in educational opportunities for their children, and increasing numbers are finding it. You can too.
Steve Parker is a scientist, amateur philosopher, award-winning blogger and long-time Tooele resident. He and his wife, Ellen, are raising their two kids in Tooele and consider it home.