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The results are in, and they're looking up.
Higher percentages of Utah students are testing proficient in language arts and science, according to results of Criterion Referenced Tests (CRTs), given to Utah students in grades 3-11 last spring. Proficiency is also up among students in most minority groups in math, language arts and science. Utah students, as a whole, performed the same in math last school year as the year before.
"Scores are going up, student achievement is improving at the state level," said Judy Park, state associate superintendent, "and we're thrilled."
Park attributed the increase to a focus on literacy and numeracy in Utah schools. She also said she believes Utah's adoption of Common Core academic standards are helping. Utah schools have been phasing in the new standards which describe the concepts students should learn in each grade to be ready for college and careers.
Last school year was the first year schools taught the new language arts standards, and sixth- and ninth-grade teachers taught the new math standards.
In recent months, some conservatives have assailed the standards, saying they are not rigorous enough and will result in Utah losing local control over education claims education leaders refute.
Park said she believes the new core "is doing its job."
Last school year, 84 percent of Utah students tested proficient in language arts, up from 82 percent the year before; 69 percent tested proficient in math, the same as in 2011; and 72 percent scored proficient in science, up from 70 percent, according to the State Office of Education.
Gaps remained between some ethnic groups, with Latinos, Utah's largest minority group, trailing white students, as a group, by anywhere from 20 to 33 percentage points in each of those three subjects. But Latinos' scores improved in all areas since 2011 and dramatically since 2009.
The state did, however, see a significant drop in the percentages of students proficient in pre-algebra and Algebra I. John Jesse, state assessment and accountability director, noted that's likely because fewer students took the test last school year because of changes to mathematics courses within the Common Core. The state hopes to have tests in place to reflect the new classes by 2013.
In the past, CRT results would have factored into determinations of whether schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind. But Utah will no longer determine schools' AYP statuses now that Utah has a waiver to the federal law. In future years the scores and student progress will go into assigning schools letter grades, under state law.
State board chairwoman Debra Roberts said she was happy to see the rising proficiency rates, but she said there is more to be done.
"I'm pleased that we're making gradual increases," Roberts said, "but … if we're really going to get our students where we need them there's going to have to be an acknowledgement that we need more resources."
The board voted Friday to include among its budget requests to the governor and lawmakers that student enrollment growth be fully funded next school year and base per pupil spending raised by 2 percent, or $44 million.
The state office also released results Friday of the Direct Writing Assessment, showing that 83 percent of fifth-graders tested proficient in writing last school year and 85 percent of eighth-graders tested proficient.
To see statewide Criterion Referenced Test results go to http://tinyurl.com/8n5n4j7.
Results for individual schools will likely be posted there within the next week.