In comparison with her sister states, Utah continues to get a bargain for its education dollars, State Superintendent James R. Moss said Wednesday. He responded to a national report from the U.S. Department of Education comparing many education statistics among the states.

The release of the 1988 education "wall chart" evoked critical remarks from Education Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos for the country's education overall.Moss saw some disturbing trends in the data for his state, but in context of its circumstances, said he'd give it "a flat-out A."

Utah continues to spend less per pupil than any other state in the Union, and the gap between the Beehive State and others continues to grow. The state's average teacher salaries dropped from 36th in the rankings during 1987 to 43rd in 1988.

Classroom size, still at 51st in the nation (rankings include the District of Columbia) increased by 1.3 students per class. (See chart on A2.)

Those data create the "most challenging set of difficulties of any state in the nation," Moss said. While the indicators of stress in the system increase, the state is putting forth a greater overall effort, he said.

On a national average, states spend 49.8 percent of tax income for education, while Utahns see 54.4 percent of their taxes go for that purpose.

"We're making a major effort and still have low teacher salaries and large classes," he said.

On the good news side of the balance, Utah's students generally held steady in performance scores. "We're either holding our own or improving," he said. "We have the most cost-effective product in the nation." In some measures, Utah was among the leaders.

Utah also does well in ACT test rankings, considering the percentage of students who take the college entrance test, Moss said. Although Utah ranks only 15th among the 28 states that primarily use the ACT test, the number who take the test must be calculated into the equation, he said. A much higher percentage of students taking the ACT tends to dilute scores. In states where only the most academically able students take the tests, scores logically should average higher, he said.

Utah's ACT scores in English and natural science hit 22-year highs, he added. Results of testing for fifth- and llth-graders showed improved performance in all areas in both grades.

The immediate future doesn't hold much promise for addressing the downward trends on the "input side" of education in Utah, Moss said. A growing student population will continue to stress the system for several years.

Maintaining the state's good standing on the "output side" will depend on changing the educational system, not looking for increasing budgets, Moss said.

"We've got to make smarter, more efficient use of the dollars we have." A restructuring of the system may include relaxed regulations, more local control, increased use of technology and changes in the way teachers are distributed and used. The individual student will become the focus of the restructured system, he said.

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(Chart)

Utah Education report card

ACT SCORE 1986 1987 1988

Utah 19.1 18.9 18.9

U.S. avg. 18.8 18.7 18.8

Rank (among 28 states

that use ACT 14 15 15

GRADUATION RATE

Utah 80.3 80.6 N/A

National average 71.6 71.1 N/A

Rank (out of 51) 12 10 N/A

EXPENDITURES PER PUPIL

Utah $2,390 $2,415 N/A

National average $3,756 $3,977 N/A

Rank 50 50 N/A

(out of 51. Only Mississippi is lower; Alaska is No. 1)

PUPIL/TEACHER RATIO

Utah 23.6 23.4 24.7

National average 17.9 17.7 17.6

Rank (out of 51. 51 51 51

TEACHER SALARIES

Utah $22,603 23,035 22,572

U.S. avg. 25,201 26,556 28,008

Rank 30 36 43

UTAH GRADS TAKING AP TESTS

1988 percentage: 27.2

1988 rank: 1

1982 percentage: 15.4

1982 rank: 1