Utah schools posted below-average marks in educating students, according to a report released this week, with the biggest mark-down in providing early childhood programs and in making sure students are ready for college.

Education Week's "Quality Counts" report gave Utah education a C-, while the average grade was a C. Utah ranked 44th in the nation.

"Education Week is a national publication of high repute and singular in terms of its reputation, so it's an important report and we want to pay attention to it," said Patti Harrington, state superintendent of public instruction. "That said, it's one of a number of reports that we receive."

"I don't question their data ... we have a horrible achievement gap. While our graduation rate is good it is still lamentable we have so many kids that are not graduating, especially those that come from minority subgroups — so we have a lot of work to do this year," Harrington said.

Utah's highest marks in the report were in the "chance for success index," where the state scored a B-.

Within the category's indicators, Utah ranked first in the nation in the number of public high school students who graduate with a diploma, third for children with at least one parent working full time and year-round, and seventh for children with at least one parent having a post-secondary degree.

"I am very pleased with our graduation rate and it's been historically high, and for that we can be appreciative," Harrington said.

But Utah, along with Idaho and Nebraska, was given a failing grade in "transitions and alignment," or making sure students are prepared for school as well as a post-secondary education.

Under that category Utah was one of only four states that were marked down for not having early-learning standards aligned with K-12 standards or set learning expectations for kindergartners aligned with elementary schools. Nor does the state have programs for students who are not deemed ready to start school.

Harrington said that is no longer true. This fall pre-K standards were put in place in Utah. However, they were most likely established after the information was gathered and didn't make it into the report.

Utah was also marked down for not having a state definition of "college readiness," something Harrington said she would like to look into, and not having a high school assessment aligned with the post-secondary system.

Harrington said the state also got demerits for not having graduation requirements as high as other states.

Utah also took a blow in per-pupil spending in the school finance category, ranking 49th in the nation.

"The board of education will be taking action on matters related to this report, not to make the report look good, but to make sure that we've got good practices going on in helping our children succeed and in a large measure focusing on high performance standards, quality academics and ongoing assessment and immediate interventions for kids that are struggling," she said.

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com