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Utah losing ground on school performance

By | Posted - Jan. 11, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The latest rankings from Education Week magazine show Utah is losing ground among the states when it comes to how schools are performing.

Utah is No. 41 on this year's list -- down three spots from last year -- receiving an average grade of C-minus and score of 72.4, falling below the U.S. average of 76.3.

The magazine evaluates a wide range of factors for its annual Quality Counts report, not just test scores, according to Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah Office of Education.

Grading Summary: Utah

Category Grade
Chance for Success B-
K-12 Achievement D+
Standards, Assessments & Accountability C+
Transitions & Alignment C-
Teaching Profession D+
School Finance D

"Another piece is school funding, another piece is policies that are in place, school environments, basic demographics of the area," he said. "It's a rather large look."

The rankings measure chance for success; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; transitions and alignment; teaching profession; and school finance.

One area in particular that is keeping Utah low on the rankings list: School finance, where Utah received its lowest mark on the report card, a D. Within that category Utah ranked dead last in per-pupil spending, earning an F grade.

"Where we really get dinged hard is on funding for education, and that's been a problem for generations," Peterson said. "We actually came in 47th in the nation for finance, although we are, in fact, last for per-pupil funding."

Still, Utah scored high marks for spending equally among school districts.

"We don't have lot of money in our pocket, but what money we do have gets shared around really well," Peterson said.

The Office of Education says things like funding and demographics can't be changed too much, but areas such as student achievement has room for improvement.

"We're looking to close the achievement gap but we're looking to close it by bringing up the bottom, not by bring down the top," Peterson said.

But Peterson said there are areas where Utah is doing pretty well: "If we're looking at 'chance for success,' that piece of the grade -- parent education, are parents employed, are the kids fluent in English, are they enrolled in kindergarten, how are they doing in fourth grade reading -- those sort of things [make up] 'chance for success.' Our grade is actually B-minus, and we're well in the top half of the states."

Peterson said Utah will now take the information and work on areas to improve, including bridging the so-called achievement gap between the state's demographics.

"We're pretty pleased with the chance for success grade and that is where the rubber meets the road for kids," Peterson said. "Do they have a chance for success in Utah public schools? Yes, you do."

Maryland tops Education Week's rankings for the third year in a row. CLICK HERE to read the full report.


Story compiled with contributions from Becky Bruce and Anne Forester.

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