Arizona Ready sets high education goals

First step of grading schools from A to F already taken

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

The recently appointed Arizona Ready Education Council, which is chaired by Craig Barrett and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, met this past week to discuss state strategies for education reform.

The group, which includes Mohave Community College President Michael Kearns, plans to monitor the progress of Arizona's rigorous education goals, determine if reform strategies are improving student learning and oversee successful implementation of the Arizona Ready education plan.

Arizona Ready, a sweeping initiative announced in September by Gov. Jan Brewer and Huppenthal, is the plan for Arizona's education future.

The first aspect of the reform plan was to release A-F accountability ratings for schools and school districts. The initial ratings were released in October.

Starting during the 2012/2013 school year, third-graders who do not read at or near grade level will be unable to advance to fourth-grade. In 2014, students between third- and 11th-grade will start taking career- and college-ready diagnostic tests. The data collected by these diagnostics will be used to better assess and address education gaps.

The reform plan sets several lofty state goals to be met by 2020 as well. First, 94 percent of third graders must meet state reading standards. Currently, 73 percent of third-grade students throughout the state meet those standards. Also, the state wants to push the current 75-percent high school graduation rate up to 93 percent. Lastly, the state wants to double the number of baccalaureate degrees issued by Arizona institutions of higher education.

"We've brought together some of the best and brightest minds in education, business and public policy in order to help Arizona improve classroom performance," said Brewer. "We're raising expectations for our students, teachers and schools, and I have no doubt they'll be up to the task."

At its initial meeting, the Education Council discussed an online "report card," which would be used statewide to review the performance of Arizona students and coordinate efforts to improve achievement.

The online "report card" - coupled with higher standards, improved training of teachers and a new, internationally benchmarked assessment aligned to the standards - will help achieve these and other education goals in Arizona, according to a release.

Chairman Barrett is a materials scientist, a retired Intel Corporation CEO and former Stanford University faculty member. As the chairman of Change the Equation - a national coalition of CEOs working to improve literacy in key areas of science - and other education-based groups, he is known nationally as a leader in education reform.

"A quality education system is vital for Arizona's economic growth and competitiveness if we are going to attract and keep businesses such as Intel." Barrett said. "We must ask more of our students; we must successfully implement the new internationally benchmarked Arizona standards and assessment system; we must increase teacher training in mathematics and science; and we must be accountable for our progress in education reform. The status quo is simply unacceptable."