Study finds Arizona in familiar territory

Education Week released its Quality Counts 2007 report on Jan. 3, and it appears to agree with other studies that put Arizona near the bottom in education.

The report examines 13 indicators that make up an index that captures key performance or attainment outcomes at various stages of a person's lifetime or are correlated with later success. That led to titling the report, "From Cradle to Career: Connecting American Education from Birth to Adulthood."

The "Chance for Success Index" places Virginia, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire at the top. Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico rank at the bottom of the 50 states in descending order.

"Smart states, like smart companies, try to make the most of their investments by ensuring that young people's education is connected from one stage to the next - reducing the chances that students will be lost along the way or require costly remedial programs to acquire skills or knowledge they could have learned right from the start," Virginia Edwards, editor and publisher of Education Week and Quality Counts, said in a news release.

Arizona came in ahead of the national average in percentages in just three of the indicators and tied in one. We surpassed the national average in kindergarten enrollment (76.7 to 75.3), high school graduation (70 to 69.6) and steady employment (67.9 to 67.2). We matched the national average of 70.6 in parental employment.

Indication categories in which Arizona trails nationally include family income (59.8 to 53.2), parent education (42.5 to 36.8), linguistic integration (84.3 to 75.3), preschool enrollment (44.8 to 32.8), elementary reading (29.8 to 23.6), middle school mathematics (28.5 to 25.7), postsecondary participation (47.8 to 41.4), adult educational attainment (37.4 to 35.3) and annual income (50 to 48.7).

When all indicators are figured into the mix, it ties Arizona with Louisiana for a No. 48 ranking among states. Drop both down one more notch if you count the District of Columbia, which is included in the study and ranks 31st on the total scale.

In general, the study reflects that individuals born in the South and Southwest are least likely to experience success. Residents of the Northeast and North Central states are more likely to become achievers.

A new state K-12 achievement index is included with the study. It shows that achievement gains for math and reading NAEP scale scores between 2003 and 2005 in Arizona did not significantly differ from the national average.

Achievement levels on the opposite side of the chart indicate Arizona was lower than the national average for 2005 NAEP math and reading proficiency. Those figures are as follows with the national percentage given first: fourth grade math, 35.3 to 27.9; eighth grade math, 28.5 to 25.7; fourth grade reading, 29.8 to 23.6; and eighth grade reading, 28.9 to 23.1. A total of 15 indicators related to reading, math, high school graduation rates and advanced placement courses were examined in assigning Arizona a 43rd ranking in K-12 achievement.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne issued a news release soon after release of the study. In it, he states Arizona ranks well above the national average in K-12 education policy.

I must conclude the study data he read is different from what I read based on his next comment.

"Among the significant policy measurements such as establishing high academic standards, the testing of math, language arts, science and social studies and holding schools accountable for academic performance, Education Week ranks Arizona 14th out of the 50 states, well above the national average," he said.

Horne's news release goes on to say Arizona ranks 20th among the 50 states in the "Education Alignment" section of the study, which I could not find. "Chances for Success" measures factors, such as family income, that are not under the purview of the Arizona Department of Education, the news release concludes.

Horne evidently got a "hard" copy of the study sent to him containing some data not included in the online report and about which he is touting his department. At the same time, he makes light of the main thrust of the study, which is the "Chances for Success" section because it looks at factors that are indeed not under his control.

The 14-page report may be viewed on the Internet at www.edweek.org/go/qc07. Read it and draw your own conclusions.