Grading the states on their efforts to improve public education has been a hallmark of Quality Counts since it was launched by Education Week in 1997. Last year we took a hiatus from grading to reassess some categories (finance and teaching), and to introduce a couple of new indexes (Chance for Success and K-12 Achievement).
Grading is back in 2008. But there are some key differences between this year’s report and previous editions (which makes comparing state grades over time like comparing apples and oranges). As always, we’re grading on the implementation of state policies in several key areas – this year adding alignment policies to the mix. For the first time ever, we’re also grading states on student performance outcomes.
While Quality Counts has changed significantly over the years, the reason for grading the states has remained constant. Grading is a useful way to help readers get their heads around a very large amount of information—more than 150 different data points. That said, we intend the grades to be the beginning of a meaningful conversation about education and public policy, certainly not the final word. There are countless stories and possible discussions behind each grade we give.
State Leaders Respond to Grades
Now put yourself in the shoes of the state superintendent. Each year, Quality Counts comes out and points out your state’s strengths and weaknesses, and how well your state is doing compared to all other states. How do you respond?
Paul Pastorek, State Education Superintendent, Louisiana:
This report confirms what we already know. As compared to other states, our steady and positive improvement of academic achievement simply isn't enough" (News Star/Associated Press, January 10, 2008).
Jo O’Brien, Assistant Education Commissioner in Colorado:
We’re not defensive about this. We find it interesting and rather helpful. When we saw we got a D (in one category), even though you want to cringe, we kind of want to say, ‘You know what? This is helpful. This is a report that we think has integrity.’ And we would agree it is commensurate with where state legislators and policymakers—and where the Department of Education and the state board (of education)—think we also need to work” (Rocky Mountain News, January 10, 2008).
Peter McWalters, Commissioner of Education, Rhode Island:
I know we did not receive high scores in several of the categories, but I like the questions they are asking" (Providence Journal, January 10, 2008).
Patti Harrington, State Superintendent, Utah:
I think the report reinforces in some ways what parents already know. Shining flashlights in areas that are dark and troubled is a good practice. These reports help us to understand how we're viewed by a third party" (Salt Lake Tribune, January 9, 2008).
Stan Johnson, Assistant Commissioner, Missouri:
The whole grading system depends on how well your state aligns to their established criteria. I’m not being critical of this, but it’s always good to look at different resources and information. If you look at other factors, such as ACT scores, Missouri fares quite well." (Columbia Tribune, January 10, 2008).
Jack O’Connell, Superintendent of Public Instruction, California:
Once again, this report indicates that despite our highly regarded standards, California faces many challenges and must invest more and work harder to ensure all students are successful in achieving to those standards" (Whittier Daily News, January 14, 2008).
A version of this news article first appeared in the Echo Chamber blog.