Does Arizona rank near the bottom, in the middle, or towards the top in terms of academic achievement? New testing data sheds light on the subject.
Two writers I read frequently have adopted optimistic stances. Pat Kossan cites dropout and Terra Nova data in developing an "it could be worse" thesis--likening Arizona to a C student. Greg Patterson writes that Arizona has SAT scores above the national average.
Those positions might be a bit too optimistic. Arizona's SAT scores are inflated by the fact that we have among the lowest participation rates in the nation. Terra Nova, well, don't get me started.
On April 22, 2009 almost 12,000 high school juniors from eight Arizona districts took the ACT exam. By having essentially all the students take the exam, these eight districts were able to much more accurately gauge where they stand in relation to other areas where all students take the exam, like Colorado and Illinois.
The participating districts--Flagstaff, Globe, Lake Havasu, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Round Valley and Window Rock--are to be commended for their participation. A delicate way to describe the results would be "mixed," but "occasionally catastrophic" would also be accurate.
The news isn't all bad, but Phoenix Union outscored the Detroit Public Schools only by a whisker. Another of the districts fell well below Detroit. That's right, it's not a misprint. DETROIT. The highest scoring district, Mesa, failed to beat the statewide average for either Colorado or Illinois. Most of the districts were far below these statewide averages.
The good news is that we can make Arizona's schools much better without spending huge amounts of money, which we don't have any in any case. But we first have to admit that we have a serious problem.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
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