Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Serious Reform = Student Success

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

Education reforms DO make a difference.

A prominent Arizona policymaker asked me to compare Arizona and Florida's NAEP scores for non-English language learning students and the results are in. It's clear that taking a combination of new approaches has paid big dividends in the Sunshine State. And given the comparable numbers of non-ELL students in Arizona, it begs the question: Why have Florida student scores skyrocketed while Arizona's remain stagnant?

Notice in the chart above that Arizona and Florida had precisely the same percentage of non-English language learners scoring "Basic" or above in 1998. Over the past decade, Florida improved their percentage of students scoring "Basic" or better by 33 percent, while Arizona only improved by 14.8 percent between 1998 and 2003-and holding steady.

When you look at reading achievement, the story becomes even more lopsided. The number of non-ELL students scoring "Proficient" increased by 16.6 percent in Arizona, but by 52 percent in Florida. The percentage of students scoring "Advanced" in Arizona did not advance at all, but it increased by 100 percent in Florida.

So what gives? Both Florida and Arizona have expanded parental choice, but Florida did more. Both states instituted testing, but Arizona officials made their test easier to pass, while Florida stuck to their guns. Florida opened the gates to alternative teacher certification, Arizona did not. Florida moved to curtail social promotion in the early grades, Arizona did not.

I could go on, but the important point is this: If Arizona wants to make real gains in student performance it's critical that we get serious about implementing education reform. It can be done. Just look at Florida.

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

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