Arizona business, education and nonprofit leaders say that reaching the new goals they’ve set as part of the Arizona Education Progress Meter will better prepare students for success and boost the state’s long-term economy.
“Arizonans believe that education is one of the most important issues facing our state,” said Erin Hart, interim president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, a nonprofit education advocacy organization that helped develop the meter. “We must close the achievement gap that leaves so many children behind, while increasing educational attainment overall and preparing Arizona with a highly-skilled workforce.”
The progress meter is a set of indicators that shows where the state is now on key education issues and its goals for the future. Hart said she hopes it will be used as a springboard for discussion about policies and funding needed to get there.
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The Arizona Progress Meter was developed in early 2016 by content experts, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, school districts, business groups and stakeholders from around the state in collaboration with Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit that combines research with partnerships to improve the state’s economic prosperity, quality of life and civic health.
The new goals
The Arizona Progress Meter includes goals in early education, third grade reading, eighth grade math, high school graduation, opportunity youth, teacher salaries, as well as higher education enrollment and attainment.
Progress toward the goal in one indicator leads to growth in the next one, because “they are the building blocks for one another, said Evelyn Casuga, a retired Arizona Public Service executive who teaches part time at Central Arizona College and volunteers with Arizona Town Hall.
For example, increasing the percentage of students enrolled in high-quality preschool will lead to a rise in the percentage of third-graders who are proficient in reading and eighth-graders proficient in math.
“Early education is where we’re going to get the most bang for the buck,” said Donna Davis, senior community mobilizer for Expect More Arizona. “When our kids start off behind, they continue to be behind. The best way we can elevate all of those metrics is to make sure that all of our kids get a quality education starting in preschool.”
It’s important “to create an environment where quality early learning is fostered, so we can get those third-grade reading scores and eighth-grade math scores,” said Sam Richard, a member of Osborn Elementary School District’s governing board and a lobbyist. “It’s not just about the measure, it’s about the supports there along the way.”
Increasing the percentage of students prepared to be successful in high school math is also important, said Cal Baker, superintendent of Vail Unified School District who also serves on the State Board of Education.
“In just the last few weeks, we (the State Board of Education) have made some adjustments to that so that students who are taking advanced math – high school math in eighth grade – are captured in the data,” Baker said. “When we started cutting down the barriers to let kids go forward and we started encouraging sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to take high school math, they just took off.”
Researchers from Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy determined the best data to use to measure progress toward the goals and includes the most current data available in the yearly updates for each progress meter indicator.
“We know how to count, we know what to count, and know how to put it in a framework where there are goals for everyone in Arizona to see,” said Lattie Coor, chairman and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona.
Coor notes that the August 2017 presentation of the new goals at a luncheon attended state and local leaders from many sectors was the first in a series of progress updates.
State Rep. Jill Norgaard, who represents District 18 in Phoenix, said she liked the metrics chosen to measure progress toward the goals.
“I hope that everyone can agree that this is a program that we can really stick to, so that when the ship starts to list, that we remember that we’re all working toward the same goal and that we stick to it,” Norgaard said.
Choosing the goals
Thousands of individuals and more than 200 organizations took part in setting the new goals.
“The Education Progress Meter enables diverse groups from across the state to work together to address critical issues within our education system while making problem-solving relevant to local communities,” Coor said.
These new goals aim for academic growth for all students.
“It’s about creating our local talent, it’s about the students’ success and our state’s economic development,” Casuga said. “Unless we have an educated workforce, we’re not going to raise ourselves by the bootstraps.”
Reaching the goals should also help Arizona meet the state’s 60 percent postsecondary education attainment goal that was announced last year by the Achieve60AZ alliance.
It’s time to make postsecondary education attainment the milestone that high school graduation was years ago, said Edmundo Hidalgo, vice president of outreach at Arizona State University and former president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa.
“Every one of these goals is really key, but if you look at jobs in the future there’s an expectation of a higher education,” Hidalgo said. “That’s what we really have to make sure that our high schools are focusing on – that ultimate prize.”
Photo Gallery by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews: Arizona Education Progress Meter event