Special Report
Education

Utah

January 04, 2005 3 min read
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Standards and Accountability: Utah is off to a good start in building a standards-based system, but there’s room for growth.

The state has clear and specific standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in English, mathematics, and science. Such standards exist for social studies/history at the elementary and high school levels only.

But the state relies primarily on multiple-choice tests, except in English, where extended-response items also are used in middle and high school. Utah offers standards-based tests in English, math, and science in all grade spans, but it offers no tests based on state standards in social studies/history.

The state’s accountability system is limited. Utah publishes school report cards and rates schools based, in part, on test scores.

But it does not provide help or impose consequences for all consistently low-performing schools, including non-Title I schools. The state also lacks cash rewards for high-performing or improving schools.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Utah is one of six states that do not test teachers at all before they are certified, but it is piloting subject-matter tests for prospective teachers.

Under the state’s Early Years Enhancement Program, novice teachers must submit portfolios and be observed by mentor teachers. The state plays no role, though, in evaluating the portfolios or training the observers.

Moreover, Utah does not pay for the mentoring that all school districts provide. Instead, the state has set aside some funds for mentoring that are available to districts through a competitive-grant process.

The state requires high school teachers to have a major in one content area and at least a minor in another, for endorsement in two content areas. Middle school teachers must have at least minors in their subjects.

Although Utah earmarks money for professional development for teachers, it has few accountability measures to ensure a high-quality teaching force—a deficit that lowers its grade. For example, Utah is one of only six states that do not identify low-performing teacher education programs. And of the teacher-qualification information tracked by Education Week, the state reports data only on out-of-field teaching in its school report cards.

The state curbs out-of-field teaching, though, by withholding money from districts for each educator who is assigned outside his or her subject area of preparation.

School Climate: The state offers a mixed picture when it comes to school climate.

Its school report cards include extensive information on class size: by grade level and by subject at the secondary level. But the report cards do not include information on parent involvement or school safety.

School choice options include a statewide open-enrollment policy and a charter school law that is rated weak by the Center for Education Reform.

The state stands out as having a large average elementary-class size, at 23.7 pupils. The national average is 21.2 pupils. Elementary, middle, and high school students in Utah are less likely to attend small schools than are students in most other states.

Equity: Utah is one of the highest-scoring states in equity, with the third-highest grade of the 50 states. Utah is one of only 10 states that have negative wealth-neutrality scores, meaning that, on average, students in property-poor districts actually receive more funding per pupil than students living in wealthy areas. The state ranks fifth for that indicator. The only trouble spot for the state is its coefficient of variation of 14.4, indicating moderate disparities across districts in education spending. The state ranks 36th on that measure.

Spending: Utah ranks absolutely last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in education spending, with just $5,132 per pupil in the 2001-02 school year.

The figure is only 66 percent of the national average of $7,734. Fewer than 1 percent of students in the state are in districts that spend at or above the national average. Utah also ranks last on the spending index, which also considers how far the rest of the state’s students fall below the national average.

Utah seems to be making an effort to bolster funding for education, however. It is equal to the national average for the percentage of total taxable resources spent on education, at 3.8 percent.

Also, the state’s average increase in inflation-adjusted spending per pupil from 1992 to 2002 placed it seventh of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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