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Arizona Education Progress Meter Shows steep but ‘obtainable’ climb

by Expect More Arizona

If all goes according to a set of goals supported by dozens of Arizona education and business groups, the state’s elementary teachers will earn the national median of $56,000 in five years and most third-graders will read at grade level by 2030.

Those are among the benchmarks that make up the Arizona Education Progress Meter, a data-tracking effort education advocates hope will drive statewide policy decisions and address longstanding student achievement gaps.

The meter, developed by education nonprofits Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona, tracks areas — such as teacher pay, high school graduation rates and reading and math literacy — that indicate student achievement.

“Let’s not forget why we’re doing this. We’re trying to improve the educational system so that the young people have a greater opportunity to escape poverty and achieve success in their life,” Rich Condit, former CEO of Sundt Construction and a backer of the initiative, said after the goals were unveiled at a Tuesday luncheon at the Arizona Biltmore.

“That’s the bottom line.”

Erin Hart, interim president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, said the goals are “obtainable, yet aspirational.”

Hart acknowledged it will take additional state funding if Arizona is to check off all of the goals set in the progress meter.She joined the list of advocates calling to renew and expand Proposition 301, a sixth-tenths of a cent sales tax that pumps more than $600 million into Arizona public schools and is set to expire in 2020.

Here are the goals for Arizona education:

Teacher pay

Where Arizona stands: Median pay for elementary teachers in Arizona is $42,474, ranking 50th nationally.

Goal: Reach the national median of $55,800 by 2022.

This is the goal for which education advocates expressed the most urgency. Arizona schools are experiencing a shortage of qualified teachers — an issue education leaders and advocates say is caused by various factors, such as poor working conditions, but compounded by poor pay.

The Arizona Republic published in June a first-of-its kind analysis on teacher qualifications that found 22 percent of 46,000 teachers across the state lacked the full qualifications to teach in the classroom during the 2016-17 term.

“Arizona has a significant teacher retention and recruitment issue,” Hart said. “As the goal-setting group looked at the issue … it became clear and very evident adjusting teacher is not only very urgent, it can also have the potential of moving the needle on all those other indicators.”

Third-grade reading

Where Arizona stands: 43 percent of third-graders scored “proficient” or “highly proficient” on the reading portion of AzMERIT this past school year, according to unofficial results.
Goal: 72 percent statewide passing rate by 2030.

Statewide AzMERIT test scores have mostly improved since students began taking the standardized exam in 2015, but the rate of improvement likely needs to increase if Arizona is to meet this goal.

Unofficial AzMERIT scores reported by The Republic showed 43 percent of the state’s third-graders scored proficient or highly proficient on the reading portion of AzMERIT last school year, up from 40 percent in 2015.

Third-grade reading proficiency is emphasized by education leaders and policy experts because it is a popular indicator of a student’s likelihood to graduate from high school and kids who fail to meet the state’s standard are at risk of repeating the grade.

Eighth-grade math

Where Arizona stands: 36 percent of eighth-graders passed an eighth-grade or high-school level math exam on AzMERIT in 2016.

Goal: 69 percent statewide passing rate by 2030.

Math scores among middle-school students exemplify the highs and lows of students’ growth on AzMERIT.

Twenty-eight percent of Arizona students who took the eighth-grade math portion of AzMERIT earned a passing score. But seventh- and eighth- grade students taking advanced math tests such as algebra and geometry have been among the highest performers on a test defined for its rigor.

High school graduation rate

Where Arizona stands: 78 percent of Arizona students graduated from high school in four years, according to 2014-15 data by the Arizona Department of Education.

Goal: 90 percent graduation rate by 2030.

Arizona has incrementally improved its overall graduation rate in recent years, but still lagged behind the national average of 83 percent.

The most recently available graduation rates for the states showed achievement gaps were particularly acute with some student groups. For example, 66 percent of Native American students and only 25 percent of English language learners graduated from high school in four years.

‘Disconnected youth’

Where Arizona stands: 15 percent of 16-24 year-olds in Arizona were neither going to school nor working in 2016.

Goal: Reduce percent of “disconnected youth” to 7 percent.

In 2010, the Greater Phoenix area led the nation in the number of disconnected youth. But aggressive local efforts have curbed the rate of people ages 16-24 who aren’t working or in school by 26 percent.

Education advocates plan to reduce the statewide rate of disconnected youth by more than half by 2030, and the issue has started to receive attention from statewide leaders: State schools Superintendent Diane Douglas proposed $350,000 this year for disconnected youth efforts.

Preschool enrollment

Where Arizona stands: 21 percent of Arizona 3- and 4- year old kids are in some sort of early learning setting before starting kindergarten.

Goal: Increase pre kindergarten rate to 45 percent by 2030.

Education and business leaders have lobbied state lawmakers in recent years to invest more money in early literacy programs they believe will go a long way to help boost the number of kids reading at grade level by the time they leave third grade.

Neither kindergarten nor programs like preschool are completely free to parents in Arizona. The state for years has funded kindergarten programs at about half the level of every other grade.

Research generally shows students who participate in early learning programs and kindergarten are better prepared for first grade.

The Tempe City Council approved a $3 million program this year that provides free preschool to 3- and 4-year-old children living in poverty.

Post-secondary enrollment and attainment

Where Arizona stands: 53 percent of Arizona high school graduates enroll in a post-secondary education straight out of high school, and 42 percent of adults age 25-64 have attained some sort of post-secondary education.

Goal: Boost the rates for post-secondary enrollment and attainment to 70 percent and 60 percent.

The last two goals have the most obvious economic impact for the state.

A coalition of business and education groups in support of these goals said the state’s tax revenues would increase by $3.5 billion annually if Arizona reached 60 percent post-secondary attainment among working adults.

The coalition estimated that by 2020 every two out of three jobs in Arizona will require more than a high school education.

This article was originally published on AZ Central.

 

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