Special Report

The State of The States 2002

By Lori Meyer, Greg F. Orlofsky, Ron Skinner & Scott Spicer — January 10, 2002 7 min read
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Quality Counts 2002 presents a comprehensive picture of what’s happening in education policy in the 50 states, and for the first time, the District of Columbia.

In Quality Counts, now in its sixth year, Education Week reports on student achievement across the states and grades them on standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, and the adequacy and equity of school resources. Each year, the report’s research team strives to update the indicators and the methodology used to compile the grades in line with the best thinking in education policy.

We’ve expanded the number of ungraded indicators we collected on the states this year. The standards and accountability tables include nearly 20 additional indicators on school report cards, testing, and student-accountability policies. Additional ungraded indicators and a grade-by-grade look at state testing policies are on the Web at www.edweek.org/qc. School climate was not graded this year, while we revise and improve the section. But information compiled from several sources is still presented.

Student Achievement: The results of the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally sponsored survey, have been released for both 4th and 8th grade mathematics and science. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia participated in the assessment.

Since the last administration of the state-level NAEP tests in math in 1996, 17 states have made statistically significant gains in the percentage of students scoring at or above the “proficient” level, with nine states making improvements in math in both the 4th and 8th grades. The new NAEP science results, released in November, show that seven states had significant improvement in the percentage of 8th graders performing at or above proficient since 1996. The reading and writing assessments were last given in 1998.

Standards and Accountability: States continued to move forward with efforts toward standards- based school improvement in the past year. Five states now have clear and specific standards in all core subjects in all grades, up from three last year, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

In the 2001-02 school year, 37 states will administer standards-based assessments in English and mathematics at least once in elementary, middle, and high school, up from 34 last year. Only 16 states plus the District of Columbia would be in line with President Bush’s plan to test all 3rd through 8th graders in English and math each year. In only 13 states and the District would those annual tests be comparable from year to year.

We broadened our definition of “extended response” in assessments this year. Previously, it was limited to written responses of a paragraph or more. To better reflect extended-response items in math, the definition now includes multiple-step problems in which students must explain or show their work. As a result, 18 states get credit for having extended-response items in subjects other than English, up from just seven last year.

States also made incremental progress in planning and implementing school accountability systems. Three additional states--Alaska, Illinois, and Rhode Island--will release school ratings by summer 2002.

Twenty states now have the authority to impose penalties on low-performing schools. That number increased from 14 last year, in part, because we decided to give credit to states that allow students to transfer out of low-performing schools. Eighteen states provide rewards to high-performing or improved schools.

In 17 states, the class of 2002 will be required to pass an exit or end-of-course exam to graduate. Since last year, though, no new states have decided to implement graduation exams, and several have delayed that requirement.

Improving Teacher Quality: States also were active last year in their efforts to improve teaching. Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Mexico now provide support to teachers just entering the classroom, raising to 15 the number of states requiring and at least partially subsidizing induction programs for newly minted teachers.

A few states also changed their testing requirements for prospective teachers. Teachers in Minnesota and Vermont must now pass the appropriate Praxis II content-knowledge exam to become licensed. And beginning in February 2002, New Mexico will have its own subject-knowledge exam that candidates must pass to earn a license.

But Oklahoma deleted the requirement that candidates pass a subject-specific pedagogy test to earn a teaching license in an effort to encourage recruitment of teachers through nontraditional routes.

States also scrambled last year to meet new federal reporting requirements for teacher-preparation institutions. As a result, Massachusetts, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia have established passing rates for graduates on teacher-licensure exams for accountability purposes.

In an attempt to curb out-of-field teaching, Arkansas will now notify parents when a child’s teacher is not certified in the subject of the course he or she teaches. Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia now show on school report cards the number of teachers within the school who are teaching outside the subjects in which they’re certified.

School Climate: We have suspended grading on school climate while we make improvements in the category. For 2002, many of the indicators remain the same as in past editions of Quality Counts, but they have been updated with new data. For the first time, our 50-state policy survey included questions related to school climate. The responses reveal that states are increasingly taking action on issues related to school climate, particularly safety.

Also included this year is information on how states help pay for the construction and renovation of school buildings. Almost three-quarters report that they provide districts with school construction debt service or capital-outlay funding, totaling nearly $13 billion.

The number of charter schools continues to grow, with 37 states and the District of Columbia now having charter laws. The Center for Education Reform, a research and advocacy group in Washington, reports that at least 369 new charter schools opened in 2001. That brought the national total to 2,371, serving more than 576,000 students.

Resource Adequacy and Equity: Last year, Quality Counts changed its methodology for grading the equity of state finance systems for education. We added a series of new indicators because we believed the combination of measures would more accurately reflect a state’s efforts to close its equity gap. This time, we tackled the adequacy side.

In previous years, our adequacy grades relied heavily on the average spending per pupil. While that information is useful and will remain a part of the system by which we measure adequacy, it does not reflect how a state actually distributes its spending for all students.

For instance, while one state may spend $7,000 on every student, another may spend $4,000 on half its students and $10,000 on the other half. Both states would have the same average per-pupil spending. We wanted to devise a measure that accounts for both the number of students below an “adequate” level of spending and the degree to which spending on those students falls short of adequate.

Because policymakers disagree on a dollar figure that provides an adequate education, we used the national per-pupil average (adjusted to reflect the higher costs of educating poor and special education students within a district) as a reasonable benchmark.

To create the “adequacy index,” Education Week first assigned a 1 to each district where the spending per pupil (adjusted for student needs and cost differences) is equal to or exceeds the national average. Districts where the adjusted spending per pupil is below the national average were assigned a number equal to their district’s average per-pupil spending divided by the national average per-pupil spending.

The results were then multiplied by the total number of students in the district. The maximum score any district received equaled its total student enrollment.

To get the adequacy index, district scores were summed, then divided by the total number of students in the state. The adequacy-index column, then, is a state’s total score divided by the total number of students in the state. A state would receive a 1 on the adequacy index if every student in the state belonged to a district where the per-pupil spending was at least at the national average. How far an adequacy index falls below 1 shows the state’s distance from spending an adequate amount (the national per-pupil average) on all students.

The way in which we grade equity of resources remains unchanged from last year, but we were able to use more timely data. Last year’s equity grade depended on 1996-97 federal school finance data. In 2001, the US. Census released both the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school finance data. Education Week used the 1998-99 data to compute this year’s equity grades. For details, see the interpretation section on Page 89. In general, grades for equity have improved since our new system was implemented last year.

A Note of Caution: Readers should take care in comparing this year’s grades with those in previous editions of Quality Counts because some indicators are not comparable. Also, the counts for the total number of states with a particular policy may differ this year because the District of Columbia is now included in the tables.
A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2002 edition of Education Week

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