Elevating Student Achievement: Successful Education Policies and Practices in Utah’s Peer States

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In 2010, Utah Foundation published research on the educational performance of Utah and its demographic and economic peer states. That study showed Utah lagging in student achievement over time while peer states were continuing to rank highly on national test scores. This new study is a response to frequent requests for more information about education policies and practices in Utah’s peer states.

The peer states—Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota—were selected based on their similarity to Utah with respect to parental education, student poverty levels, and student race and ethnicity demographics. Massachusetts and New Jersey serve as benchmark states due to the continual high performance of the students in those states.

Utah Foundation interviewed state officials and conducted third-party research to identify common policies and focus areas that may have contributed to student performance and improved test scores in these states. For example, peer and benchmark states employ professional development strategies for educators, such as personalized training that emphasizes pedagogy, content knowledge, and classroom practice to improve teacher quality and effectiveness. In addition, mentoring and coaching of novice educators by carefully selected, effective teacher mentors addresses workforce induction, retention, and performance.

Several of the peer and benchmark states are utilizing periodic assessments and data-driven tools to inform classroom instruction and teacher practice throughout the year—rather than just at the end of the year. The deployment of student growth models has enabled the tracking of year-over-year growth of individual students in comparison with similarly-achieving peers.

fig20Outcomes from high-quality preschool and full-day kindergarten programs targeted at at-risk students in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Colorado show a positive return on investment due to reduced grade retention, decreased use of special education services, and improved student achievement in the early grades.

With respect to high school interventions, peer states are leveraging third-party, nation-wide organizations with proven results and early warning systems to target high school students at risk of dropping out. In addition, states are better preparing students for college and career with counseling for students and parents who may have little personal experience or knowledge of college admission requirements, cost, and processes.

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2 Responses to “Elevating Student Achievement: Successful Education Policies and Practices in Utah’s Peer States”

  1. Stephen Hershey Kroes

    It’s definitely too soon to see results of the Sage test, since it was new this year. It may be too soon to know of the new standards have had an effect as well. One thing has become apparent recently — our 8th grade reading scores (on NAEP) had a big jump in 2013. See our blog post on that: https://www.utahfoundation.org/2014/03/good-news-utahs-reading-math-scores/

    When asked why the improvement, folks at the USOE think it may be related to the Olene Walker K-3 reading program. The 8th graders today were some of the early beneficiaries of that program, which started around nine years ago. That can’t be proven, but it may be true. We will be watching the test scores in the next round to see if that improvement is maintained.

  2. Diana

    I’m curious, after teaching eight years, about the cost to achievement ratio in Utah. We spent over 8K per student in 2006-7 what were our Math, Science, and Reading Scores then? What if any change in both spending per student and out comes has occurred in the last seven years? We have been through three Standards iterations, and implemented the Sage testing format. Is it too soon to tell if the new data shows decidedly better or worse outcomes?

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