Ogden School District officials say the Utah Taxpayers Association is wrong in contending that taxpayers may not be getting their money's worth in several districts.
"They've really gone way overboard," Assistant Superintendent Milt Kendrick said Tuesday. "They've done things that are absolutely statistically illegitimate."A report last week by the tax watchdog group compares student scores on statewide tests to per-pupil spending in each of Utah's 40 school districts.
It compares similar districts, pointing out places where, "Under similar conditions, some districts are doing a better job of educating Utah's children than others."
Research analyst Howard Headlee paired the Ogden and Salt Lake City school districts for comparison and found that while their per-pupil spending is about the same, Ogden students had significantly lower scores on standardized tests.
While Ogden ranks 13th in per-pupil spending in Utah and Salt Lake City ranks 16th, Ogden's test scores ranked 37th and Salt Lake City's 17th.
Headlee said a comparison of the two districts is justified because both are inner-city districts with similar minority populations. Although Salt Lake City's enrollment is double Ogden's, both districts have comparable student-teacher ratios, he said.
Other districts that fared poorly in Headlee's analysis included South Summit, Daggett and Granite.
Howard Stephenson, Utah Taxpayers Association executive director, said the study was an attempt to show that there is no relationship between per-pupil spending and student performance in Utah. He added that he believes the study's results are being reinforced nationwide.
"This confirms our belief that more spending is not necessarily the answer to Utah's education problems," he said.
But David Nelson, state coordinator of evaluation and assessment, said he's irritated that Ogden was among districts singled out in a study he called "statistically indefensible."
Since the statewide testing program mandated by the 1990 Legislature was begun this fall, Nelson, Kendrick and other school administrators have worried that results would be misconstrued.
Nelson said the Utah Taxpayers Association has done just that, using data any way it can to point out what it sees as "tax money being squandered."
He said the study in question doesn't account for factors affecting test scores such as the percentage of a district's students coming from low-income families.
In addition, Nelson said, "These people always fail to point out that Utah overall spends less per student than any other state," Nelson said. "It bothers me that absolutely no national comparisons have been made here."