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.
Outcomes 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.