Horne's 'state report card' criticized
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 19, 2005
Pat Kossan

Beginning in late April, the state gave 750,000 16-page booklets to schools with instructions to send them home with their students.

Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, called the publication a federally financed state report card for parents.

Critics called it a federally financed re-election campaign brochure for Tom

Horne blasted back: "That's not even within a million miles of being fair or accurate."

The booklet is titled "A Message from Superintendent Tom Horne." The report's colorful cover includes a photograph of Horne reading to children and a cheery letter to parents from Horne about academic progress. On the back cover is another letter from Horne about discipline.

Horne, a Republican up for re-election in November 2006, said it is common practice for heads of agencies to have their names on agency reports. Horne pointed out that Gov. Janet Napolitano's face and name appear on tourism billboards and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is the star of a television commercial about preventing identity theft.

State Sen. Harry Mitchell, a Tempe Democrat who taught high school for 28 years, said both the front and back covers look like political promotion.

"Politicians who can use public dollars should err on the side of caution," Mitchell said. "I know it's very tempting when a report goes out to use it for self-aggrandizement."

Fourteen black-and-white bar charts inside the booklet show passing rates on the AIMS test for all students. There are charts for students who are disabled or poor, who are in minority groups and just learning English. They all look fairly uniform, lined up in a repetitive and comforting pattern. Here's a hint for parents: Put on your reading glasses.

Although the bars on the charts look about equal, those top lines on the charts are not. For example, what is not immediately clear is the top line on the chart for poor kids stops at 70 percent, while the top line of the chart for wealthier students stops at 90 percent. Despite the uniform look of the charts, in reality, the passing rate for poor kids falls well below that of their wealthier peers.

Horne calls the discrepancy among the top lines of the bar charts a common practice to avoid wasting space.

"The charts were developed by people in the research and development department, who are utterly apolitical," Horne said. "So there were no motives involved."

Mitchell said moving the charts' top lines give parents the wrong message.

"If you're just thumbing through it to get a glance at it, as most parents would, I think it's very deceiving," Mitchell said.

Thomas Haladyna, an education researcher and testing expert at Arizona State University West, called the charts "misleading." To present a clear and quick picture, the top line of every chart should be uniform, preferably representing 100 percent.

"It's part of our state standards," Haladyna said. "When we teach graphical displays and data, there are certain rules you follow."

This is Arizona's first hard copy of the federally required "state report card." It cost $37,858.84 to print, and Horne said the feds paid the bill. The law requires the report to be printed in appropriate languages for parents, but the report, distributed to schools in April and May, came out only in English and the data are a year or two behind. Horne said an updated 2003-2004 report would be distributed in August in both English and Spanish. Horne blamed the lag on "bureaucratic delays."

"The first draft that was done didn't make things as clear as can be," said Horne, who sent the booklet back for several rewrites.

All the fuss may be of little consequence. School officials doubt many parents would find the information interesting. Laura Bistrow's youngest child graduated in May from Paradise Valley Unified School District's Horizon High School and doesn't remember seeing the booklet. She had no intention of looking for it.

"I wouldn't get in that backpack if my life depended on it," Bistrow said. "First-graders are much better with that sort of thing. They're more