Three-fifths of other states floundered with grades of F or incomplete, but Utah managed a C Monday in a report card on its school standards for history and geography.
That average grade didn't please state and local educators involved with revamping the state's history and geography curricula.According to studies by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a private think tank devoted to education reform, Utah ranked a C.
"In most of the country, the academic expectations for these crucial subjects are flabby and vague," foundation president Chester E. Finn Jr. said.
"Setting standards is like fixing the destination for your education journey. If it's not done right, you find yourself wandering in the wilderness," he said.
While the foundation said Utah's standards don't quite leave students wandering in the wilderness, the standards could still be much more clear and demanding to make the journey more valuable.
But Utah social studies specialists say the report card does not give Utah due credit and questions whether it accounts for a current revamping of the state core curriculum in elementary social studies.
"Perhaps they took a snapshot at that moment and said, `Here's how Utah is.' We need more video tape to see the process continuing. Something a snapshot doesn't do justice to what's happening in a state, especially for Utah," said Joe Spendlove, social studies curriculum specialist for Granite School District.
"I believe we're doing better than a C. We're not there yet - we're talking about how to assess how we're doing now. I can't say we're doing an A-plus job, but we're working toward excellence. I hate to give grades, but I would say we're in the upper B's."
The foundation says Utah's history standards "do not contain sufficient history content, nor are skills tied to content.
"The standards are also vague and unmeasurable, as is evident in this example: `Students will . . . analyze the various cultures prevalent in the United States,' " without saying what those specific cultures are, what should be known about them or how what is learned will be measured.
Utah received one of nine C's given to the states and District of Columbia.
The foundation gave only one A (to Virginia); three B's; six D's; and a whopping 19 F's. It also noted 13 other states had no relevant standards at all.
In geography, the foundation praised Utah's standards for high school students but said standards for those in junior high and elementary schools need improvement.
"At the high-school level, Utah's standards shine. Standards for a mandatory geography course (entitled Geography for Life) are comprehensive and rigorous," it said.
"Although the elementary grade standards scored lower than middle and high school, they nevertheless lay a solid foundation for students, particularly in map and globe skills. Middle grades are stronger, primarily because of geography contained in grade seven," the report card said.
The Utah Office of Education currently is revamping its social studies core curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade. Officials expect the revision to be completed next year.
"We think it's essential to take our time and get input from several people in the state, not only from educators but community input and that from political groups," said Rebecca Anderson, state social studies specialist.
Anderson has not seen the Fordham Foundation's report and does not know what criteria it used to arrive at Utah's grade. But she says the state office will examine the report in depth and perhaps use it in revising the curriculum, which will bolster geography's part in the curriculum.
Utah received one of eight C's on geography standards among the states. The foundation gave two A's (to Colorado and Indiana); three B's; six D's; 18 F's; and 12 incompletes.