Published Online: January 4, 2005
Published in Print: January 6, 2005, as State of the States

State of the States

States are putting in place policies to help meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and to improve the conditions in their schools.

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Quality Counts 2005, the ninth annual edition of the report, continues to track state policies and information across key areas of education: student achievement, standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and financial resources. The findings show states are putting in place policies that will help them meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in the areas of teacher quality, testing, and accountability. States also are working to improve the conditions in their schools and to develop stable sources of equitable funding.

Much of the information for the more than 100 state-level indicators included in Quality Counts 2005 comes from the Education Week Research Center’s annual state policy survey. Other indicators were gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education and from such organizations as the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Education Reform, and the Education Commission of the States. All data sources are listed here. A detailed description of how Education Week calculated the states’ grades is also included.

Student Achievement: No new state-level data are available from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Quality Counts 2004 included the 2003 state NAEP results in reading and mathematics, and presented those statistics disaggregated by racial and ethnic subgroups.

Quality Counts 2005 ranks the states in reading and math at the 4th and 8th grades based on the percent of students scoring at or above the “proficient” level on NAEP. Several states rise to the top of the rankings across both subjects and grades. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire consistently have a higher percentage of students scoring at or above proficient compared with other states, though no state can claim that more than half of its students have reached the proficient level on NAEP in any grade or subject.

Though NAEP is known as “the nation’s report card,” it is the percentages of students scoring at or above the proficient level on states’ own standards-based exams that are used to determine adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. So for Quality Counts 2005, the student-achievement section also presents data from each state on the performance of its students on state tests.

Because each state administers its own exams and sets its own performance standards, the results are not comparable across states. But they are indicative of each state’s progress toward meeting federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind law. This 3-year-old reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires each state to ensure that all students reach the proficient level on state reading and math tests by 2013-14.

The range of rigor in tests and performance standards across states is obvious when one compares students’ performance on NAEP with the results on state exams. While only 18 percent of 4th graders in Mississippi scored at or above proficient on the NAEP reading test, for example, 87 percent have reached that bar on the state exam.

The national graduation rate rose slightly from 70 percent in 2001 to 71 percent in 2002. The “chance for college” indicator, which measures the likelihood that a 9th grader will graduate four years later and enroll in a degree-granting higher education program, increased from 37 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2002.

Standards and Accountability: By the 2005-06 school year, the No Child Left Behind law requires states to test annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. States must use the test results to rate all public schools on whether they have made adequate yearly progress. The law spells out, in detail, the technical assistance and sanctions for schools that do not meet their targets and receive federal Title I money for disadvantaged students.

Quality Counts, in contrast, grades states on whether they test in the core academic subjects of reading, math, science, and social studies at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

For the 2004-05 school year, 46 states have standards-based tests in place in reading and math at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Twenty-two states have standards-based science tests in all three grade spans. Only 12 states, down from 14 last year, have standards-based social studies tests in all three spans. Twenty-two states report that their state assessments have undergone an external review since 2001 to ensure that the tests are aligned with state academic-content standards.

One component of all state accountability systems, and a federal requirement for districts receiving Title I money, is to report test data to the public. An analysis of school report cards last fall by the Education Week Research Center indicates that at least 19 states have more than one school-level report card for each school, and that 16 of those states have separate report cards designed specifically to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The analysis also found that, as of Oct. 22, 2004, 19 states had not yet released report cards that included 2003-04 data. Based on the most current report cards available at the time, 44 states and the District of Columbia reported school-level test data broken down by racial and ethnic groups. In 23 states, high school report cards included disaggregated dropout or graduation rates.

While all states now provide technical help and impose sanctions for Title I schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress, as required under the NCLB law, states receive credit in Quality Counts 2005 only if their technical assistance, sanctions, and rewards apply to all public schools in the state, not just Title I schools. This school year, 36 states make technical assistance available to all low-performing schools. Twenty-nine apply sanctions to such schools that may include closing the school, reconstituting the school as a charter school, or withholding funds. Seventeen states offer rewards to high-performing or improved schools.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality:The No Child Left Behind Act requires that each classroom in a core academic subject has a highly qualified teacher by the end of the 2005-06 school year. As a result, states have been steadily ratcheting up their licensing requirements for new teachers.

For the 2004-05 school year, 36 states and the District of Columbia require that high school teachers pass subject-matter tests to receive initial licenses, up from 34 and the District last year. South Dakota will require the tests beginning in 2005-06; Kansas and Utah have pilot tests under way; and at least three other states indicate that subject-matter tests will become a requirement in the coming years. Only 24 states now require all middle school teachers to pass a subject-area test to receive an initial license.

The trend toward requiring subject-specific coursework to earn an initial license also hasn’t abated across the states.

Thirty states require that new high school teachers have majors in the subjects they plan to teach to receive an initial license, up from 28 states last year. Only Kansas has a similar requirement for new middle school teachers.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have created their own nontraditional or alternative-route programs. In 32 states and the District, all applicants for alternative-route programs must either have majored in the subjects they intend to teach or pass subject-area tests before entering the classroom. Twelve of those states require both.

States also can help ensure a high-quality teaching force by holding teacher education programs accountable for the preparation of their graduates. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia now identify their low-performing teacher education programs, up from 39 states and the District last year. Twenty-five states publish the passing rates of teacher education graduates on state licensing tests by institution. Twelve publish institution-level report cards. Fourteen states hold their teacher-preparation programs accountable for their graduates’ performance in a classroom setting.

School Climate: In an effort to examine state policies to prevent school bullying, Quality Counts 2005 looks separately at whether states have laws or regulations related to school bullying, and whether they have financed bullying-prevention programs. While 30 states and the District have such laws or regulations on the books, only 17 pay for prevention programs.

In 2004-05, 17 states survey their students, parents, teachers, or some combination of those groups about conditions in their schools, up from 14 last year. Rhode Island, for example, surveys teachers, administrators, parents, and students about school climate through the School Accountability for Learning and Teaching survey, or SALT.

Though not required by federal law, some states are using their school report cards to provide the public with information about school climate. Twenty-seven states include information on school safety, 22 report average class size or pupil-teacher ratios, and 11 states include a measure of parental involvement.

No states added new charter school laws this past year, so the count remains at 40 states and the District of Columbia. The Washington-based Center for Education Reform, however, reports an increase in the number of charter schools across the country, to nearly 3,000.

New to the school climate section this year is information on state policies related to character education and community service. Included as additional information, 34 states include provisions in law or regulation related to character education, and nine states and the District finance character education programs. Only one state, Maryland, has a community-service requirement for students to graduate from high school.

Resources:Quality Counts 2005’s look at school finance gave us the chance to review our annual measures of equity and adequacy. As a result, we have made a few changes to those sections.

Our grading on the equitable distribution of resources now includes only three outcome measures of resource equity: the wealth-neutrality score, the McLoone Index, and the coefficient of variation. Those measures look at the relationship between district wealth and education revenue, and the disparities in funding across districts within a state.

Absent from the grading this year is the state-equalization effort, a measure that reflects both the percentage of funding for education provided by the state and the extent to which those funds are targeted to property-poor districts. While the measure can be indicative of state efforts to equalize funding across districts, it is sometimes subject to vagaries in the classification of finance data across the states, and may not capture the multiple measures states use to equalize funding.

As the special focus on school finance in this report makes clear, there is no agreed-upon measure of adequate spending on education. Though we recognized this in past years, and graded states on adequate spending in comparison with a national average using figures adjusted for cost-of-living differences and student needs, this year we decided only to rank the states and the District of Columbia on various measures of state spending for education. There are no grades for adequacy in Quality Counts 2005.

The Education Week Research Center annual state policy survey reveals that a majority of states rely on a foundation formula to pay for education, meaning that they set a base amount of guaranteed funding that is provided through a combination of state and local revenue. All but two states also provide a portion of funding through what are known as categorical programs. That form of aid allows states to target funds to special populations and programs such as special education, students deemed at risk of academic failure, class-size reduction, teacher professional development, or literacy initiatives.

Vol. 24, Issue 17, Pages 77-78, 80

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