God, Science, & The Utah State Office of Education’s Puzzling Stance Regarding High Stakes, Common Core Testing of Special Education Students.

“Interesting enough, Utah’s most respected representative of the school of empirically based educational thought (USOE), has formed a basis for adopted policies associated with the  SAGE Common Core test, that appear to be almost religious in nature..”

Dear Parents & Community Members:

During the next several weeks, between now and September 15, 2015, parents, activists, board members and politicians will be engaging in a  very intense “disagreement” concerning the Common Core based SAGE test, and how its use and implementation in Utah is affected by recent administrative law changes implemented by the U.S. Department of Education, as such entail the use of the Common Core SAGE test on Utah’s population of divergent (“special education”) students.   (http://www.noticeandcomment.com/Improving-the-Academic-Achievement-of-the-Disadvantaged-Assistance-to-States-for-the-Education-of-Children-fn-292468.aspx)

One side will definitely state that such changes will have absolutely no effects, ill or otherwise, on Utah’s current policies associated with the Common Core SAGE test (e.g., “Utah State Office of Education Administrators”)….

The independent medical and psychology experts will state that the changes in the policy may serious adversely affect the cognitive and mental health of potentially tens of thousands of divergent learning students in Utah, due to USOE’s dangerous, and almost mystical faith-based belief, that the SAGE test can be given to ALL divergent learning students, with zero adverse emotional and/or cognitive consequences. (In addition to the claim that the SAGE test will determine if ALL divergent students are “career and college ready”.)


Regardless of where one stands today on the issue, it is reasonable to state that there is no middle ground between the two parties.   Both parties will submit “evidence” and state their respective positions to State Board Members, lawmakers, and parents of divergent learning children throughout the State of Utah.   Both parties will hope that their evidentiary “proof” will hold sway over the general public, as well as mainstream media entities.

Before this “war” for the hearts and minds of the Utah populous begins, I just wanted to share a few interesting observations about “empirical evidence”, and “faith”, from two vantage points:

1. From the objective viewpoint of a doctoral level, “local clinical community scientist” in the field of clinical psychology.

2. From the faith-based viewpoint as a devout Christian, and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


A common discourse and theme among many (certainly not all) members of the Christian faith, is that the current education system does not welcome inquiry in public school settings regarding concepts of “faith”,  as such may be related to the existence of a higher being (God). (The legal reality of “separation of Church and State” is well established).   The argument often made is that teachings of God, faith and creationism have no place in our education system because there is no empirical evidence to support them. I have no intention of “solving” this debate, my sole intent is to point out the obvious  differences between the two schools of thought.

Interesting enough, Utah’s most respected representative of the school of empirically based educational thought (USOE), has formed a basis for policies  associated with the  SAGE Common Core test, that seems to be almost religious in nature. In other words, the Utah State Office of Education, the self appointed gate keeper between the illicit mixing of “pure” empirical science, and the subject of God in public schools, is demanding that parents in our community subject their children to a high stakes SAGE test entirely on the basis of….well….’faith’.

Here is what we do know, and what no person or organization in the country has yet to refute on any objective, empirical level:

The SAGE test is unscientific because it violate the basic rule of social science/academic achievement science. The assessment is not verifiable, because the SAGE test is not permitted to be subject to independent scientific evaluation. Its validity cannot be proven nor disproven. Under the guise of “test security” Utah’s $39,000,000.00 testing vendor, American Institute of Research (AIR), uses copyright laws so extreme that they prevent true scientific evaluation of the validity of these tests, by scientists with expertise in the fields of Education, Psychology, and related fields.

The main reason this practice of ignoring validity is scientifically reprehensible, is that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and the USOE, has ignored this most accepted scholarship in the field of “testing”. The concept of Validity, or simply put, PROOF that a test performs as “advertised”, is used to halt the dangerous myth of “certainty” that permeates in the field of educational testing. The Utah State Office of Education, is asking our community of parents to accept that the SAGE test can measure academic constructs in special education students (other than the highest “1% of the most cognitively impaired students”) accurately, with no adverse emotional or psychological harm, on the basis of “faith”.  In reality and practice, USOE and Secretary Duncan, expects this community to subject its most cognitively and emotionally vulnerable students to the admittedly experimental in nature SAGE test, simply because they said so.

   “Just trust me.”


As one parent expressed to me last night in a social media exchange, “so what? Suppose the SAGE test is an invalid, unnecessary experimentation on the children in Utah…what’s the harm?”  Here was my reply:

“Students (and many parents) “internalize” what SAGE scores mean, and since the majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m a Top SAGE Proficient student” is almost as harmful as “I’m a Bottom Non Proficient SAGE student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of Utah.    Simply put, he who writes, administers and controls the test, literally controls the psycho-social structure of an entire community.   Kids become in their minds, what the test says they are.   If an education entity unleashes this powerful force on an entire community, they sure as hell better ensure that it works as advertised.”

One does not have to be a mental health professional to know the mental health ramifications associated with a child or teen who believes that he or she is “stupid” when compared to his peer siblings and/or peers on campus.   Anxiety, depression, self-mutilation (cutting), drug abuse,  and a well documented increase in youth suicidal ideation, are just a few of the consequences associated clinically with the high stakes academic testing game.

I make a living off of the art and science of academic, cognitive and emotional assessment. I understand, and believe in the benefits associated with tests and measurement.   Our challenge to the Utah State Office of Education will be to simply verify their claims, as such pertain to the validity of the SAGE test, and its use and application with psychologically vulnerable populations of divergent learning and special education students….who are NOT categorized with the confusing and general label as the “1% of the most cognitively impaired.”

As professionals in the field of clinical psychology, we will rely entirely on independently produced, peer-reviewed research from this nations most prestigious universities, as well as established ethics as published by the American Psychological Association  (APA Ethics Code), and the American Medical Association (AMA Ethics Code) , to present our case to the community.

Slide010 Given the serious nature of the pending conflict, we will demand that the Utah State Office of Education use the same criteria of scholarship, ethics and communication with the public, as well as the Utah State Board of Education, as opposed to their current reliance on “faith”, as their basis of justification for accepting the changes to well established, local/state level Utah practices associated with divergent learning students in Utah.   The misleading, disingenuous, omission laden guidance given to our elected State Board members from an administrator from USOE,  regarding this serious unilateral rule change initiated by the Federal Government, would be comical if it were not for the fact that her propaganda, if accepted as a “matter of faith”, may result in the needless suffering of divergent learning students in the State of Utah.    https://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/usoe-letter-tells-state-board-all-is-well-all-is-well-in-special-ed/

At the bequest of my own four divergent learning children (who do not fit into the U.S.D.O.E.’s criteria of “severely cognitive impaired“, as well as the hundreds of similarly situated diverse African American, Latino, Autistic, Suicidal, Dual Exceptional, Cognitively Gifted, Learning “Disabled”, Schizophrenic and otherwise emotionally disturbed children and teens in the State of Utah that my talented staff of Doctor and therapist have valiantly served, I humbly request that the Utah State Board of Education suspend their “faith”, as such apply to the USOE’s agenda laden claims, and protect our most vulnerable assets in our community:   Our children.

Yours in service;

Dr. Gary Thompson
Early Life Child Psychology & Education Center


“Parents are, and must always be, the resident experts of their own (divergent learning) children.”

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Dr. Gary Thompson

I am a "retired" Doctor of Clinical Psychology and Special Education Advocate. I currently provide education and Forensic Psychology consulting services for Early Life Child Psychology & Education Center, Inc, as well as their clients. In 2015-2016I will attempt to provide a educational framework for my own 4.5 year old daughter. Public school? Private school? Homeschool? Dual enrollment? It's one thing to provide education advice to the masses, but it is another ball game when it comes to ones own child. Join me via my (hopeful) triumphs and mistakes as I leave the professional setting, and embark on a journey with my child in a education world that has been in turmoil and controversy.