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Arizona schools finish near bottom in national report card on education

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WASHINGTON – Arizona schools were ranked in the bottom 10 states in a national report Thursday that gave the state a below–average grade in student achievement, teacher requirements and state spending, among other areas.

Arizona finished 44th in the annual report that measures state education policies and programs – a slight drop from its standing in last year’s report.

But Arizona was not alone: The report’s authors said 25 other states saw their scores drop because “the economy is having an impact.”

“A number of states had to cut programs due to budget constraints,” said Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate for the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which produces the report. “They just don’t have the money or they have to use the money for other purposes.”

Arizona earned an overall grade of C–minus, below the national grade of C. The state rose above the national average only on academic standards and assessments, but fell short in all five other categories.

Andrew LeFevre, spokesman for Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, said it is not surprising that Arizona did not score highly in all categories because the state has locally elected school boards, unlike some other states.

“(The report) is certainly something that we’ll be taking a look at,” LeFevre said. “I don’t think we’re going to be basing our educational policy off of a report like this.”

The report is based on a national survey that was taken in the middle of last year. LeFevre said the survey may not have reflected policy changes that the state is in the process of implementing in areas where it scored poorly, including new teacher and principal evaluations.

Arizona’s B-plus for assessments and accountability recognized the state’s success in implementing subject standards for language arts, math and science classes. Its assessment procedures help focus on school accountability, through statewide rankings and assistance for poor-performing schools.

Lloyd said all school systems did fairly well in that category – the overall national grade was a B – largely because of assessment requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Otherwise, Arizona did not do so well, earning grades of C to D-minus for K–12 achievement, opportunities for success based on family income and school enrollment, school finance, education alignment standards and teacher quality.

The state recorded some of the worst figures in the nation in subcategories for overall education spending, postsecondary education and efforts to improve teaching, according to the report.

Joe Thomas, vice president of Arizona Education Association, said the state’s rank in the report was disappointing, but justified, considering the categories where it scored poorly.

“Those are issues that Arizona is struggling with, so it’s understandable to see where that number comes from,” said Thomas, whose 31,000–member teachers union is the largest in the state.

Arizona schools are operating on 25 percent less money than they did a few years ago, due to the recession and budget cuts that have forced an increase in class sizes and fewer programs for teacher support, Thomas said.

“To be a teacher in Arizona right now – it’s a very frustrating experience,” he said. “There’s just so much that needs attention and we’re so limited on the funds we have right now that it’s going to be another difficult year.”