Thursday, October 30, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Is Arizona creating an Illiterocracy?

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

In Idiocracy, Luke Wilson plays an average Joe shot 500 years into the future where he awakens to find himself a relative super-genius. Over time, America becomes increasingly ignorant, to the point that people can barely speak a sentence. Occasionally, the film's absurd premise forces itself to mind.

I've written about Arizona's lowering of AIMS cut scores in order to game school accountability. The AIMS test has four levels of achievement: Below Standard, Approaches Standard, Meets Standard, and Exceeds Standard. The "Meets" category is where cut scores have been lowered.

Let's take a look at the more stable category of "Exceeds Standard." Figure 1 below tracks the progress of Tucson Unified School District students who will graduate in 2012. These are the percentages of students in that class who "Exceeded Standards" on the Reading AIMS when they were in third and sixth grade.

For those without an abacus on hand, that's an 88 percent decline in the percentage of children scoring at the advanced level between third and sixth grade. Sadly, the numbers aren't better on a statewide basis, declining from 21 to 4 percent.

Attendance in a typical Arizona public school seems injurious to the ability to exceed reading expectations at each grade level, at least according to the state's own standards and measures.

As the legislature convenes in January, improving education must be a priority. The Goldwater Institute will be releasing 100 Ideas which will include many solutions to our educational challenges. To pre-order a copy, call (602) 462-5000.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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