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Report: Arizona posts strong achievement gains, gets F in per-student funding


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

MathActivityMiddleSchoolStudents

Arizona K-12 students’ achievement gains in math and reading over the past 10 years rank among the top in the nation, according to a recent national report.

According to the 2015 Quality Counts report, “Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown” Arizona ranks:

  • 4th in the nation on reducing the reading gap among students who qualify for the national free- and reduced-lunch program.
  • 8th in the nation on fourth-grade math achievement gains.
  • 16th in the nation on eighth-grade reading achievement gains.

Report: Arizona posts strong achievement gains, gets F in per-student funding MathActivityMiddleSchool2Despite these strong gains, Arizona ranks 38th on the K-12 achievement index. In education overall, Arizona is 47th among states with a D+ overall. The nation as a whole earned a C.

Arizona students continue to sustain a growth trend that began in the 1990s in all subjects, and especially in fourth grade math, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

These results could not have been achieved without the commitment of teachers, educational leaders, parents, and supportive communities, said Sally Stewart, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Education.

Teachers and parents have worked hard to support the Move on When Reading goal for every student in Arizona, Stewart said.

In math, a focus on deepening content understanding has helped to increase the depth of student learning and basic understanding of mathematical concepts, and the Arizona Department of Education is certainly encouraged by the gains in fourth grade math, Stewart said.

Report: Arizona posts strong achievement gains, gets F in per-student funding ArizonaStateAchievementIndicatorsClosing achievement gaps at higher grade levels is more complex than at lower grade levels since gaps often become wider if not addressed early, Stewart said.

Local schools and educators work to close gaps at all grade levels by building support systems to continue grade level learning while providing assistance to students as they work toward grade level expectations, Stewart said.

The Arizona Department of Education has created tools within its data system that allow educators to more effectively address each student’s unique needs, Stewart said.

The department also has changed its focus from acting primarily as a regulatory body to an service-oriented organization with specific goals, Stewart said.

“Our performance level is much higher than our spending level,” said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

Report: Arizona posts strong achievement gains, gets F in per-student funding NationEarnsMediocreGradeOnAchievementChartWhile Arizona earned a B+ for funding equity in public school districts, it earned an F in K-12 per-pupil funding, according to the report.

Arizona ranks 4th in the nation on the amount needed to bring all students in the state to the median level of funding.

Arizona also ranks 7th in the nation in the difference in funding between the highest and lowest spending districts in the state.

“There is some disparity between high- and low-funded districts, but much less that the national average,” Essigs said. “If we were to put more money in per-pupil funding it would move it in the right direction.”

Arizona continues to spend among the least per pupil in the nation, ranking 50th among the states and the District of Columbia using the latest national data available from 2012.

Only Utah, and Idaho spent less per pupil than Arizona, according to the report.

Report: Arizona posts strong achievement gains, gets F in per-student funding SchoolFinanceAnalysisTableArizona’s per-pupil funding is $8,101, which is $3,634 below the national average of $11,735, Essigs said.

“The governor in his (state of the state) speech said there will be no new cuts to education, and we need to take him at his word,” Essigs said.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey also said settling the inflation funding lawsuit is a priority.

The Arizona Supreme Court has ordered the Arizona Legislature to increase base level per-student funding to account for inflation as required by law, which would provide about an additional $336 million in the coming school year.

In addition, the courts have ruled that the state owes schools more than $1 billion in inflation funding that the Legislature did not provide from 2009-2014 as mandated by law.

A Superior Court judge is currently deciding how the state should meet this obligation and is expected to rule soon.

“If we receive the base-level inflation funding, per-pupil spending would rise by approximately $300 per student,” Essigs said. “That would put us above Idaho, Nevada and North Carolina in per-pupil spending, and we’d be heading in the right direction.”

Right now, Arizona’s per-pupil funding is about 69 percent of the U.S. average, Essigs said.