The lackluster grade may be a reflection of the Legislature's changing attitudes toward technology education. In 1990, lawmakers kicked off the Utah Educational Technology Initiative with a $15 million initial appropriation, and funding for technology was strong throughout the 1990s. But in 2001, money for education technology became part of "student success block grants" managed by districts. Funding became less certain, and districts had the choice to spend money on areas other than technology.
Now, more than 50 percent of the state's too-few classroom computers are four to five years old or older.
John Brandt, computer services specialist at the Utah State Office of Education (USOE), says the report gave Utah an "F" for student access to computers without making allowances for the state's most common method of providing computer instruction.
"Utah chooses a different model than most states," Brandt said. "We have dedicated computer labs in our schools that are used by many classes."
There are fewer computers per student as a result, Brandt said, but students still have opportunities to learn about computer technology.
Rick Gaisford, director of educational technology for USOE, was pleased that the report noted Utah is ahead of two-thirds of states in the ability to manage student and teacher data. In the past year, Utah implemented its "unique student identifier system," meaning achievement can be tracked even when students move from district to district, Gaisford said.
The final frontier in tracking progress is about to be crossed, according to Gaisford. Now that student identifiers are in place, Utah can link up its data on students and teachers, showing which teachers are most effective in increasing student achievement. Salt Lake City School District already has this capability, and is seeing its positive effects, said Charles Hausmen, the district's associate superintendent.
"Teachers can look at students they picked for interventions and see the growth they made. For them to get feedback within the year is a real morale-booster. They see their efficacy, and it validates their hard work. They are working hard, and working smart. This is where you see data in a supportive role, instead of just for sanctions," Hausmen said.
The new report did not miss the fact that Utah's success in managing data has a negative counterweight: a general lack of classroom computers and technology education requirements for teachers.
Though few of Utah's classrooms have more than a single computer - often used mostly by the teacher for attendance and grading - a federal grant is allowing a few Utah schools to explore the possibilities of 21st century technology.
Ryan Martinez, a fifth-grader at Salt Lake City's Whittier Elementary School, works with a computer all day at his school as part of "eMINTS," a program in which 30 fifth- and sixth-graders cluster in noisy groups around tables bearing computers instead of sitting in regimental rows of desks.
Teacher Tammy Gibbons said the 15 computers in her classroom foster cooperation, communication and acquisition of skills valued in the 20th-century job market, and hopes the method she uses can one day extend to more Utah classrooms.