Special Report

The State of the States 2003

By Kathryn M. Doherty — January 09, 2003 11 min read
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For seven years, Quality Counts has reported on the most significant developments in education policy across the 50 states, and since last year, the District of Columbia. For 2003, the research team at Education Week tracked an expansive set of policies related to standards, testing, accountability, teacher quality, school climate, and education resources.

Education Week reintroduces its grading of the states on school climate this year. In addition, we’ve added new indicators on accountability. For instance, we’re tracking whether states are breaking down data from state tests for various subgroups of students--such as those from poor families or who are English-language learners--as federal education law requires. We’ve also collected detailed information on the kinds of penalties states have in place for failing schools. On the teacher-quality front, this year’s Quality Counts tracks how states are holding higher education institutions accountable for the performance of their teacher graduates. And in resources, this latest report uses federal data from 2000 on state and district expenditures on education to grade the states on the adequacy and equity of their school finance efforts.

Student Achievement: Students have already taken the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and writing, but we don’t expect those results to be released until this summer. Rather than reprint the state-by-state 2000 NAEP results in mathematics and science that we published in Quality Counts 2002, this year we’ve disaggregated the 2000 performance data by race to focus on the “achievement gap"--or the differences between the percentages of white students and black and Hispanic students scoring at or above “proficient"--in each state.

Last year, we reported that 17 states had made statistically significant gains between 1996 and 2000 in the percent of 4th and 8th graders scoring at or above the proficient level in math. In seven states, 8th graders made significant gains in science performance between 1996 and 2000.

However, focusing on the achievement gap--an explicit requirement of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001--reveals that some of the states ranking near the top for overall achievement also have some wide disparities in performance. Connecticut, for example, ranks fourth among the states in 8th grade performance in math--with 34 percent of students scoring at or above proficient. But while 44 percent of the state’s white 8th graders scored at or above proficient, just 4 percent of black students and 9 percent of Hispanic students in the state scored at the same level.

Overall, in 25 states, the achievement gap between white and black or Hispanic students scoring at or above proficient on the 8th grade math NAEP is 20 percentage points or more.

The state-by-state graduation rates included in Quality Counts this year were calculated by Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Greene calculates the figures by taking the number of diplomas granted in a state in 2000 and dividing that by the number of 8th graders in the state in the fall of 1995, adjusted for regional migration patterns. Even with data missing for subgroups in several states, fewer than half of Hispanic or African-American students in public schools in nine states graduated in 2000. In three of those states--Florida, New York, and Oregon--the graduation rate for both African-American and Hispanic students was less than 50 percent.

Standards and Accountability: The No Child Left Behind Act places new testing and accountability requirements on states. This year, the Education Week research team collected more detail on state tests, report cards, and intervention policies to reflect some of those changes.

The new federal law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires state testing in math and reading in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school by the 2005-09 school year. For the 2002-03 school year, 19 states and the District of Columbia have tests in place for both math and reading in each of those grades.

The number of states qualifying as administering “criterion- referenced tests"--in this instance, those designed to measure how well students have mastered state standards-- in English and mathematics at the elementary, middle, and high school levels increased from 37 states in last year’s Quality Counts to 42 states this year.

Education Week, however, does not review the content of tests to make such a determination. Instead, we’ve given credit to states with “homegrown” tests specifically designed to measure their standards and to the few states that demonstrated they had commercial tests augmented or designed specifically to align with state standards.

The field is changing, though, and such distinctions are blurring. For 2003, at least 12 states have what could be called “hybrid” tests in place that combine commercial tests with some features of a standards-based system. Testing experts will need to judge whether such tests are, indeed, standards-based.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia require or issue school report cards that include achievement and other school data, up from 36 states in 1998, when we started keeping track of that policy area. About half those states will report disaggregated state test results for 2002-03, either on school report cards or on the Web. Twenty states are reporting results broken out by racial subgroups and 25 by special education/disability. Nineteen states are reporting performance by student poverty (most often defined as eligibility for free or reduced- price lunches) or limited English proficiency.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia rate schools or at least identify low-performing ones statewide, up from 19 states in 1998. A dozen base those judgments entirely on test results. The rest include additional information, such as attendance, dropout rates, course-taking patterns, and site visits. Nine of the states and the District of Columbia factor the performance of specific subgroups of students--most often, the lowest performers in schools--into their criteria for determining school ratings.

As part of our survey of the states in summer 2002, we asked state officials to tell us how many schools they had identified as low performers in 2001-02 under their statewide accountability systems. Three states--California, Kansas, and Michigan--couldn’t tell yet. The remaining states and the District of Columbia identified a total of 3,826 schools as low-performing, from a low of seven schools in Nevada to a high of 641 on Alabama’s “priority” and “watch” lists.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have penalties in place for persistently low-performing schools, up from 16 states in 1998. Yet few states report levying penalties. Seventeen states provide rewards to high-performing or improved schools, down from a high of 20 states in 2001, mostly because of budget cuts.

Education Week continues to track state activity related to promotion and exit-exam requirements, while not grading states on such activity in Quality Counts. The class of 2003 in 19 states will need to pass exit exams or end-of-course exams to graduate. That’s compared with 17 states last year. Five states will require students to pass exams to be promoted in 2002-03.

Improving Teacher Quality: With new No Child Left Behind requirements aimed at guaranteeing all students a “highly qualified” teacher by the end of the 2005-06 school year, we are likely to see increasing policy action around state efforts to improve teacher quality. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia now require subject-knowledge tests as a part of teacher certification, up from 29 states in 2000. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia require all high school teachers to have majored in the main subject they plan to teach; only four and the District of Columbia require the same of middle school teachers.

We took a closer look at accountability within the teaching profession this year. We found just two states--Florida and Texas (and a pilot effort in South Carolina)--that require teachers’ evaluations to be tied to the performance of their students.

Twenty-four states publish the pass rates or rankings of their teacher education institutions statewide, in addition to reporting such data to the federal government, as required by law. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia report that they identify low-performing teacher-preparation programs statewide, but in total, only 59 institutions have been identified. Twenty-two of those states and the District of Columbia have not identified a single teacher-preparation program as needing improvement.

Just five states--Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington--hold teacher-preparation programs accountable, at some level, for the performance of their graduates in the classroom.

School Climate: After a year’s hiatus, Education Week once again grades the states on school climate for 2003, with some improvements to our methodology based on advice from experts about how to gauge school climate and identify what states can do to improve the learning environment of schools.

The result is a school climate section that incorporates both state policies and measures of the conditions in states as reported by students and school officials. The number of graded categories in school climate increased from four in 2001 to seven this year, in an effort to include as many factors of school climate as can be measured at the state level. The categories for 2003 are: engagement, school safety, parent involvement, choice and autonomy, class size, school size, and school facilities.

We added several new policy questions related to school climate to our annual survey of the states. For example, we asked states about their efforts to track climate in their schools. Eight states conduct regular surveys to find out about the conditions in their schools. Every two years, for example, Hawaii administers surveys to students, parents, and teachers in every school about school conditions, parent involvement, and parent and student satisfaction.

Numerous states require information related to school climate on school report cards. Twenty-seven states require school report cards to include information about safety, such as incidents of violence or suspension and expulsion rates. In 11 states, school report cards include information on parent involvement in the schools; in 20 states, report cards include information on class size.

The Center for Education Reform, a research and advocacy group that supports charter schools, reports that two states, Iowa and Tennessee, passed charter school laws in 2002, bringing the total to 39 states and the District of Columbia. Some 2,700 charter schools are open for business across the nation this school year. Meanwhile, according to information from the Education Commission of the States, state open-enrollment polices remained unchanged from last year, although the legislatures in Georgia and Hawaii are currently considering open-enrollment laws.

State grades for school climate range from a B in Minnesota to an F in Mississippi. Eleven states did not receive climate grades because they did not participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2000 or the accompanying school-level survey.

Resource Adequacy and Equity: Each year, Education Week analyzes the most recent available data to gauge states’ efforts to finance education adequately and equitably for all students across high- and low-poverty districts. The methods used for grading the adequacy and equity of the states’ education resources remain the same this year, and, with a few exceptions, grades held steady.

Nationwide, the average percent of taxable resources spent on education by the states was 3.5 percent in 2000. The spending per student was $7,524 in 2002.

In New Jersey, however, a reduction of nearly $1,200 per student in education spending from 2001 to 2002 dropped the state from the top spot in funding adequacy. With one of the highest per-pupil spending rates in the nation and the largest percent of taxable resources devoted to education, that honor now belongs to West Virginia. North Dakota’s unadjusted education spending per student also dropped significantly, from $7,660 in 2001 to $6,173 in 2002.

Looking at resource equity, this year’s analysis shows that state funding in Delaware in 2000 was more effectively targeted to high-need districts than it was in 1999, resulting in a dramatic increase in the state’s grade. Delaware is one of only 11 states where, on average, students in property-poor districts actually received more funding per pupil than students living in more affluent areas.

New Hampshire raised the state’s share of education funding from what was the lowest in the nation, 9.1 percent in 1999, to 56.6 percent in 2000. While that action raised New Hampshire’s equity grade, the effects of the new state funding source were mitigated because of changes in the way the state targets money to poor districts. The small share of funds provided in 1999 was targeted heavily toward less affluent districts, but in 2000, state aid was only slightly weighted toward those districts.

State grades for adequacy of education funding range from A’s in West Virginia, New York, Wyoming, Vermont, Delaware, and Wisconsin to F’s in Arizona and Utah. Hawaii tops the list in spending equity because the state education system is a single district. Illinois and North Dakota receive F’s for funding equity. We did not grade the District of Columbia in either category because it does not have a state revenue source.

In March 2024, Education Week announced the end of the Quality Counts report after 25 years of serving as a comprehensive K-12 education scorecard. In response to new challenges and a shifting landscape, we are refocusing our efforts on research and analysis to better serve the K-12 community. For more information, please go here for the full context or learn more about the EdWeek Research Center.

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2003 edition of Education Week


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