Researchers say Utah education system must improve

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Results of school tests speak clearly: Utah students can do better. That's according to research from the Utah Foundation.

The question now is how do we go about improving the state's education system? There is no shortage of ideas, but there is a shortage of money. The challenge is sorting those ideas out, and the Utah Foundation hosted a symposium Tuesday in order to do just that.

Utah is underperforming in math, reading and science compared to states with similar demographics. In fact, Utah most often ranks last among its peers. -Utah Foundation

The research shows math and third-grade reading test results show Utah student scores have been dropping compared to results from the early ‘90s. According to the Utah Foundation's Steve Kroes, because of Utah's demographics, students here should be scoring much higher.

"The underlying agreement is that we're not performing where we should be, and we need to do something better," Kroes said.

The results compare test results in Utah to those in states most like Utah; that is, states with similar poverty levels, parents' income and ethnic profiles. Such states include New Hampshire, Minnesota and North Dakota.

At Tuesday's symposium, it was clear ideas about how to improve the scores are plentiful; but making change happen can be frustrating.

"When research is so clear on what the effects would be if we would do certain things -- like early-childhood education for example -- and it's set aside for whatever reason, that's so frustrating to me," said Larry Shumway, Utah's superintendent of public instruction.

Shumway said states with education success stories focus on early-childhood education, technology and accountability. That includes holding high school students to college-level standards.

Paying for new programs is a challenge, but Shumway won't say a tax hike is necessary. However, the Utah Education Association's president won't shy away from the possibility.

"That is something we have to look at," said Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. "We have to look at equitable, fair, broad-based taxation. But bigger than that, we need to have a collaborative effort, to have a broad conversation about a systemic system of reform."

The bottom line is finding a way to make real improvements to programs that really make a difference -- a potentially hard-fought, but necessary process.


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Richard Piatt


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