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Utah schools are doing better than average in many key areas, according to the National Education Goals Panel.

The panel, on which Gov. Mike Leavitt served until recently, issued a report card this week designed to help measure progress by the states and nation toward the nation's educational goals.It suggested Utah's children start school healthier, have fewer problems with drugs and alcohol, feel safer and have higher levels of achievement than the national average.

David E. Nelson, director of evaluation and assessment, Utah Office of Education, said the report "is very useful and does a particularly good job of documenting overall national status in many areas" but is an incomplete measure of what is happening in the Beehive State.

"In particular, there is very sparse information pertaining to the academic performance of individual states," he said. In a report to State Superintendent Scott W. Bean, Nelson noted that all of the states are doing "less than the levels advocated by the National Education Goals Panel in both mathematics and reading."

The national report said 27 percent of Utah eighth-graders scored at the "proficient" or "advanced" level in mathematics - which was higher than the national average of 25 percent.

However, it was behind the three highest-achieving nations in the world. Taiwan had 41 percent of its eighth-graders score at those levels, Korea had 37 percent and Switzerland 33 percent.

"We need to put an end to giving a watered-down curriculum to some students just because we don't think they will rise to the challenge," said U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley as the report was issued. He also challenged parents to become more involved with schools to improve their performance.

Examples of data in the report include:

- Utah has reduced the number of infants born with two or more health and development risks from 13 percent in 1990 to 12 percent. The national average is 13 percent.

- Eighty-seven percent of 19- and 20-year-olds in Utah have a high school diploma, which is just above the national average of 86 percent.

- Twenty-six percent of Utah fourth-graders meet the goal panel's reading performance standards, but that is higher than the national average of 25 percent.

- Nineteen percent of Utah 10th-graders report that someone offered, sold or gave them an illegal drug on school property in the past year, which is lower than the national average of 20 percent.

- Seven percent of Utah high school students reported using marijuana at least once in the previous 30 days in a 1993 study, about the same as the 8 percent who reported doing so in 1990. No comparable national figures were available.

- Seventeen percent reported having five or more drinks of alcohol in a row during the month before a 1993 study, which was about the same as the 19 percent who reported doing so in 1990.

- Only 8 percent of Utah high school students reported being threatened or injured with a gun, knife or other weapon - much lower than the 35 percent average nationwide who report such problems.

The report also said the number of Utah high school students passing Advanced Placement tests for college credit is increasing.

For example, of every 1,000 11th- and 12th-graders, 38 passed the English AP exam in 1994 - up from 33 in 1991. Another 29 passed a science AP exam, up from 22 in 1991. And 27 passed a mathematics AP exam, up from 23 in 1991.

The panel also made available a tool kit - a series of guide books and step-by-step instructions - to help communities promote goals. Information and orders are available by calling 1-800-98-GOALS.


Additional Information

Utah school fare

Utah students perform well in major assessment programs and are progressing toward the national goals for education:


American College Testing (ACT) Utah scores have improved substantially while national scores are unchanged.

Stanford Achievement Test (SAT) Math, science scores are particularly stron g. English/language scores need improvement.

National Assessment Program 1992 results showed Utah higher than nation al scores. Reading and math scores among to p 10 of the 50 states.

Advanced Placement (AP) From 1982 to 1993 dramatic improvement while national performance declined. First in nation in rate of participation.

Education attainment, based From 1980 to 1990, substantially improved on U.S. Census. graduation rates, post-secondary training

Course-taking patterns Percentages of students taking advanced of high school seniors.

courses substantially improved 1984-1993.

Source: Utah State Office of Education.