Utah Slips in Smart State Awards

Utah Slips in Smart State Awards

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An annual ranking of the nation's smartest states ranks Utah in the middle of the pack -- but shows the state slipping.

Utah ranked 33 of 50 states survey by Morgan Quitno Press, a Kansas-based independent research and publishing company that for 16 years has annually ranked state and cities for safety, health, livability and smarts.

Utah ranked 28th in 2004, was 25th in 2003, and 17th in 2002, the first year of the study, according to information from Morgan Quitno's web site.

The Smartest State Award ranks pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education across the 50 states. The company compares national statistics from 21 equally weighted factors, including graduation rates, test results, and average class sizes.

The smartest state this year was Vermont.

Each year the company fine-times its methods of analysis, president Scott Morgan said. The current methodology places less emphasis on per pupil spending and more on student achievement, he said.

Utah's slip in rankings this year is tied to its large class sizes.

"You're terrible on class size," Morgan explained Friday morning. "Worse on pupil-teacher ratio . . . and your (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores aren't particularly strong either."

Brett Moulding, curriculum director at the Utah State Office of Education, reviewed the study data and agrees.

"I second that," Moulding said of Morgan's interpretation. "We know where we stand; this data's available to the world. They've just assembled it in one place for people to look at."

An on-paper comparison of the numbers shows some glaring difference between Utah and other states. For example, Utah has an average of 22.1 students per teacher in primary schools, while Vermont has 11.4. The national average is 15.9.

"It becomes very striking," Moulding said. "We're not just a little different. We're significantly different."

Likewise, Utah's teacher to student ratio is among the worst for middle and high schools, as well as in special education.

Moulding says the downward trend in the ranking is something to pay attention to, but also something to keep in perspective.

And despite what seems to be a slip in smarts, Utah still had a high school dropout rate of just 3.7 percent, lower than the national average.

And of those Utahns who stay in school 82.5 percent graduate, the fourth-best result nationwide. Utah also ranked 5th in numbers of residents age 25 and older with 91 percent.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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