Arizona fails to support its top-ranked students
Arizona Daily Star
March 30. 2005

 My opinion Jim Kiser:

I have long believed Arizona high schools fail most severely in their efforts to reach low-performing students. Even if these students persist to graduation, they too often leave school inadequately equipped for work or further schooling.
Now, a new report from the College Board makes clear that Arizona isn't doing as well as it should, either, by its top high school students.
The first "Advanced Placement Report to the Nation" was issued with the approach of the 50th anniversary of Advanced Placement courses in U.S. high schools. The College Board creates assessments for the courses in 34 subjects.
The report says it provides each state "with a context for celebrating its successes, understanding its unique challenges, and setting meaningful and data-driven goals to connect more students to college success."
Gauging from the data on Arizona, the state has more reason to feel challenged than to celebrate success.
In the high school class of 2004, only 8 percent of Arizona students passed at least one AP exam with a score of 3 or better, with a 3 being equivalent to a midlevel C in college.
By comparison, New York led the nation with 21.2 percent of its high school students earning a 3 or better in at least one AP course. Other top states were Maryland (19.4 percent), Utah (19.3 percent) and Florida (19.2 percent). The national average was 13.2 percent.
Of even more concern is Arizona's low rate of improvement. From 2000 to 2004, a full 46 states had a larger percentage-point change.
Arizona had only a 0.8 percentage point improvement, compared to 3.0 percentage points for the nation and 5.7 percentage points for Florida, the nation's leader.
Former DuPont Co. senior scientist Pete Edwards says the low rate of improvement is a concern in an "economy that will require more technology and professional workers with high levels of education." It was Edwards who called my attention to the study.
There's even more troubling news. That 8 percent of Arizona students who passed an AP course compares to 50.2 percent of Arizona students who enroll in postsecondary education.
That means only a sixth of the students have demonstrated the ability to do college level work. That's a large shortfall.
And Arizona has failed to enlist a proportionate number of black, Latino and American Indian students in Advanced Placement courses.
All this is important because success in AP-type courses, the report says, is "far and away the most powerful predictor of bachelor's degree completion, much more accurate than GPA or test scores."
I had always believed Arizona schools did well by their top students. Now, I'm not so sure. The report makes clear to me that Arizona's educational inadequacies affect all the state's students, the strongest as well as the weakest.
I wrote Sunday about the Goldwater Institute's new report urging Arizona citizens to impose stronger spending limits on their state government.
Goldwater contends Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as TABOR, saved the state's citizens $3.2 billion even as it fostered economic growth.
Coincidentally on Sunday, The Washington Post reported Colorado Gov. Bill Owens now wants to suspend TABOR and let the state government spend an extra $3 billion.
Over the years, Owens, a Republican, has been a tireless advocate for TABOR. He has repeatedly urged other states to adopt similar spending limits. Now, with firsthand experience of the measure's effect on his state, he wants it suspended.
If TABOR were as successful as Goldwater claims, I wonder why Owens now thinks it must be set aside to "put Colorado back on track," as the Post quoted him as saying.
Jim Kiser appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at or 807-8012.