Bennett Issues Mixed Grades on School Improvement Effort : Overall Pace Held Steady in '85-86, Secretary Says

Associated Press

Education Secretary William J. Bennett, releasing his annual state-by-state report card, said today that the pace of school improvement essentially held steady in 1985-86 after several years of progress.

"We have to do better. Our children deserve better," Bennett said. "We must redouble our efforts if we are to attain our goals."

It is the fourth straight year that the Education Department has produced a wall chart ranking states by college entrance test scores, graduation rates, teacher salaries, class size and other measures.

"This year, after four years of improvement, we have basically held steady," Bennett said. "In 39 of the 50 states, (college entrance) test scores improved over the previous year. But the graduation rate has declined slightly. In short, some gain, a little slippage."

Bennett, at a news conference, called the results "something of a hangover after the binge." He singled out for praise the states of New Jersey and South Carolina for their wide-ranging school reform efforts.

'Wall-Chart Follie' Hit

Earlier, the National Education Assn. issued a statement blasting "the Department of Education's wall-chart follies, . . . (which) raise more questions than they answer." The union suggested that federal cutbacks "have flattened out the curve of educational progress."

Since its inception in 1984 under Bennett's predecessor, Terrel H. Bell, the wall chart has evoked howls of outrage over what some educators have charged is a simplistic and misleading approach to feeding the public appetite for school rankings.

FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass., advocacy group often critical of standardized tests, said Bennett's new wall chart should bear the legend, "Warning: Gross misuse of test scores is dangerous to the nation's educational health."

But the wall chart has also forced state superintendents and others to seek ways to give parents, politicians, school personnel and other citizens more feedback on how schools are performing.

1981-82 Benchmark

Bennett actually issued two wall charts--one contrasting the 1984-85 school year with 1985-86 and the other contrasting 1981-82 with 1985-86.

The 1981-82 year was chosen as a benchmark because it was the year before a Reagan advisory panel report, "A Nation at Risk," rocked the schools into raising standards.

Scholastic Aptitude Test scores for the class of 1986, as reported last fall, were unchanged at 906. California students averaged 904, ninth best in the nation.

The public high school graduation rate for 1985--the latest year available--was 70.6%, down from 70.8% in 1984. The graduation rate in California increased between 1984 and 1985, from 63.2% to 65.8%, for the No. 39 performance among the states.

The average teacher salary, based on statistics gathered by the National Education Assn., was $25,313 for 1985-86, up from $23,595 the year before. California teachers averaged $29,132, sixth best nationally.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

The average class size nationwide fell to 17.9 pupils per teacher, down from 18.1. The pupil-teacher ratio in California was 23.1, at the bottom of the national average.

The average expenditure per pupil in 1985 was $3,449, up $276 from 1984. California spent $3,256 per pupil, No. 27 among the states.

The average minority enrollment was 29%, ranging from a high of 96% of pupils in the District of Columbia to only 1% in Vermont and Maine.

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