The Gem state is second-to-last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in average per-pupil spending. Only Utah spends less. Spending is not the only measure of quality education, however, and Idaho students are not at the bottom in such rankings as reading proficiency or math, in which Gem State students outperform those in neighboring Oregon and Utah. But with 32 percent of Idaho eighth-graders performing below basic levels in math skills, for example, it’s obvious we can do better, especially because these students will be at a disadvantage in a world with much higher standards. At the same time, the state’s testing to measure basic skills of Idaho students against those of students elsewhere in the U.S. (and in other countries) are under fire. Even President Barack Obama has acknowledged too much emphasis on testing and not enough emphasis on learning in the nation’s public schools.
The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, ranks U.S. students below average among 65 of the world’s most-developed countries and near average in reading and science. The real bottom line, with Idaho ranked 47th among states in the number of high school graduates enrolling in college, 44th in the rate of college students who graduate, and 40th or worse in the rate of college graduates who obtain degrees, is that we are failing to prepare our children for the bigger, better-educated, more competitive world.
As ill prepared as U.S. high school students are for college overall, Idaho’s scores on Scholastic Aptitude Tests are even worse. The College Board says the 17,306 Idaho students who took the SAT test in April this year scored an average of 1,349, virtually unchanged from 2012, and well below the 1,550 (out of a possible 2,400) considered college-ready.