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Utah's public education system got mixed reviews from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a report released Wednesday, bouncing from top scores for cost effectiveness to a low grade for the quality of its teaching work force.

The chamber issued each state a variety of grades in an attempt to determine which states are the "leaders and laggards" in education.

"For too long the business community has been willing to leave education to the politicians and the educators — standing aside and contenting itself with offers of money, support and goodwill," the report said. "But each passing year makes it clear that much, much more is needed."

The report was based on state results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams.

"Overall, what we are getting is fairly good feedback from the business community," said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the State Office of Education. "It says based on low investment, Utah is turning out great results and you can trust those results because our data is good."

The state received the highest score in the nation for return on investment, a category that examined how well students performed on math and reading proficiency tests compared to the state dollar investment in education — despite the state's large class sizes and low per-pupil expenditures.

"Utah public schools are the single most efficient schools in the nation, but because of funding levels we have to be," said Peterson.

Utah also got an A for the quality of its data such as student test scores. It ranked sixth in the nation and was one of only 10 states to get an A in post-secondary and work-force readiness.

Peterson said that ranking was attributed to high graduation rates and participation and passage of AP courses.

"We are turning out students as ready for the work force as any state in the nation," he said.

But Utah fell behind many states in the categories of teaching and in how well their expectations for students match up with reality.

The chamber gave Utah a D for "truth in advertising," ranking the state low because it deems more students proficient than are actually recognized as proficient by national standards.

"Many states systematically paint a much rosier picture of how their schools are doing than is actually the case. This makes it tough for parents, voters or business leaders to hold public officials and educators accountable," the report states.

But Peterson said that was to be expected in light of an "old argument" between Utah's definitions of proficient under its U-PASS system and the NAEP's definition, joining around 40 other states.

Criteria for teachers also got a D grade in Utah based on a lack of requirements that teachers pass certain basic skill levels and written subject knowledge tests — something Peterson said is common for many Western states.

"Basically we don't test teachers enough in subject knowledge," he said, noting there has never really been any discussion to move that direction, either.

Utah also received a C for its overall reading and math proficiency for fourth- and eighth-graders, as well as a C for overall academic rigor. Peterson said that can be attributed to researchers finding Utah's math standards not up to par. However, currently a state committee has been meeting to take a close look at what needs to be changed regarding math requirements in Utah.

"The conclusion of this report card is unambiguous; the states need to do a far better job of monitoring and delivering quality schooling," the report concludes.

For the full report visit www.uschamber.com/icw/reportcard/default.


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com