Special Report

The State of the States 2004

By Ron Skinner & Lisa Staresina — January 08, 2004 10 min read
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In its eighth year, Quality Counts continues to track a wide-ranging set of education policies across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This year’s report captures the significant changes states are making in the areas of testing, accountability, and teacher quality as they strive to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Most of the data used to grade the states come from an Education Week policy survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted in the summer and fall of 2003.

In addition, the report draws on state-level data from such organizations as the U.S. Department of Education, the Education Commission of the States, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Center for Education Reform. All data sources and notes are listed on Page 122. Information on how Education Week graded the states also can be found on Page 122.

Student Achievement: Reading scores from the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress show student achievement has remained relatively stable since the test was last given in 2002. The news is better in mathematics, where the percent of 4th and 8th graders performing at least at the proficient level increased nationally. Every state and the District that participated in the 2000 NAEP math assessment had a significant gain in the percent of 4th graders scoring at or above the “proficient” level in math in 2003. The same was true for 17 states at the 8th grade level.

But to date, no state has a majority of its students scoring at or above the proficient level on NAEP reading or math tests. Moreover, some of the top performers overall have some of the largest achievement gaps. In Minnesota, for example, 44 percent of 8th graders scored at or above proficient on the math portion of the exam. But while 49 percent of white students scored that well, only 9 percent of black students and 16 percent of Hispanic students did so.

Graduation rates across the states remain similar to those reported last year, as calculated by Jay P. Greene of the New York City-based Manhattan Institute. North Dakota had the highest graduation rate, with an estimated 89 percent of students receiving standard diplomas, after adjusting for regional migration. Florida and Georgia had the lowest overall graduation rates, at 56 percent.

One new measure included in Quality Counts 2004 is the “chance for college” indicator. Devised by Tom Mortenson of the Oskaloosa, Iowa-based research group Postsecondary Education Opportunity, it calculates the percent of entering 9th graders who graduate with regular diplomas four years later and go on to enroll in degree- granting programs at two- or four-year colleges.

Standards and Accountability: Many states altered their testing and accountability systems this past year to comply with the No Child Left Behind law, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have school report cards presenting test data to the public. Last year, about half the states provided test data on school report cards by race, ethnicity, poverty, limited English proficiency, or disability. This school year, 46 states and the District provide school-level test data “disaggregated” by at least some subgroups via school report cards or the Web. Twenty-three states also provide disaggregated graduation or dropout rates, up from just one state last year.

This year, Education Week also tracked the types of tests states use. Forty-two states use customized or criterion- referenced tests designed to match state standards in at least some grades or subjects. Twenty states and the District of Columbia use norm-referenced, off-the- shelf tests in at least some grades. (Such tests compare how a state’s students perform against a nationally representative sample.) And 12 states use hybrids, such as norm-referenced tests to which the state has added additional questions to explicitly reflect state standards.

Iowa and the District of Columbia rely solely on norm-referenced tests.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states must now use test results to rate all schools and determine whether the schools are making “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP. While 29 states and the District assigned ratings to schools last year, this year all 50 states and the District of Columbia have rating systems in place.

Nationwide, at least 23,812 schools failed to make AYP in 2002-03 and 5,200 were identified as being “in need of improvement” (not making AYP for two years or more). Five states did not have complete data available when this report went to press.

Education Week tracked the number of states providing assistance to low-performing schools. Thirty-six states offer technical or financial help to low-performing schools, not just those receiving Title I funds. Twenty-seven states impose consequences on consistently low-performing or failing schools, regardless of their Title I status.

States use a variety of measures to intervene in such schools. Fourteen can close down low-performing or failing schools. Twenty-two can “reconstitute” them by removing the principals and other staff members. Twelve can convert such schools to charter school status, making them largely independent, up from just four states last year. Twelve offer students in low-performing schools (not just those receiving Title I money) the opportunity to transfer to higher-performing sites. Five states may withhold money from consistently low-performing or failing schools. And nine reserve the right to turn over such schools’ management to private organizations.

Sixteen states provide monetary rewards to high-performing or improving schools.

Improving Teacher Quality: After focusing on the “teacher gap” for Quality Counts 2003, Education Week decided to keep several of the new indicators tracked last year. Some are now included in the grading for this section.

As is true for standards and accountability, some of the policy shifts across states stem from requirements in federal law. Specifically, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that teachers in the core academic subjects be “highly qualified” in each subject they teach by the end of the 2005-06 school year. That’s left states scrambling to ensure their new teachers demonstrate subject-matter competency before they enter the classroom.

The area experiencing the most growth is teacher testing. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia now require high school teachers to pass subject-knowledge tests to earn their initial licenses, up from 29 states in 2000. At least six more states are either in the process of implementing such tests or say they plan to do so in the near future.

For the first time ever, Education Week tracked whether states require all middle school teachers to pass subject-matter tests to earn their licenses. Currently, 21 states require middle school teachers to pass such exams.

Many of the states not receiving credit this year provide K-8 licenses or other elementary certificates that permit at least some middle school teachers to earn licenses after passing a subject-matter test designed for elementary school educators.

While 28 states require all high school teachers to major in the main subjects they plan to teach, only two states require the same of all middle school teachers.

With the proliferation of alternative routes into the teaching profession, Education Week also decided to grade states in that area. States receive credit if all of their financed or regulated alternative routes require participants to demonstrate subject-matter knowledge before entering the classroom, either by meeting coursework requirements or by passing a test. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia finance or regulate such a route.

Quality Counts now tracks whether the states publish school or district report cards that include specific teacher-qualification data: the number or percentages of fully licensed or certified teachers, new teachers, teachers with emergency licenses, out-of-field teachers, and classes taught by teachers who are or are not highly qualified. Forty-one states include at least one of those indicators on their school or district report cards, but only nine have report card that include at least three of those indicators.

The report also examines measures states have in place to discourage instruction by unqualified teachers. Three states have caps or bans on emergency licenses. Thirteen states have similar limits on out-of-field teaching, or the practice of assigning otherwise-qualified teachers to classes in subject area for which they are not licensed. Only three states have policies requiring notification of all parents whose children are instructed by out-of-field or uncertified teachers, not just those whose children attend Title I schools.

In addition, 12 states hold their teacher-preparation programs accountable for the performance of their graduates in the classroom, up from five last year. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia report that they identify their low-performing teacher education institutions. But only 41 institutions were identified as at-risk or low-performing nationwide in the 2002-03 school year.

School Climate: All 50 states and the District of Columbia participated in the 2003 administration of NAEP, making it possible to grade every state and the District on school climate this year. The NAEP background survey provides data for several of the indicators Education Week uses in school climate, such as measures of student engagement, parent involvement, and school safety.

Fourteen states now report that they regularly survey students, parents, or teachers about the conditions in their schools, up from eight states last year.

The inclusion of school climate indicators on school report cards also increased for the 2003-04 school year. Twenty-nine states now include school safety information, up from 27 states last year. Thirteen states include indicators of parent involvement. And 22 states include a measure of class size or pupil-teacher ratios.

Families also have a wider range of public school choices this school year. The Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based research organization that favors charter schools and other forms of school choice, found that charter schools are now legal in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Maryland is the most recent addition to that list.

Fewer than half the states require middle school teachers to pass subject-matter tests to earn their licenses.

The Education Commission of the States, a bipartisan policy clearinghouse in Denver, reports that at least 44 states have some kind of open-enrollment policy, up from 32 last year.

Education Week also tracks the annual reporting of “persistently dangerous schools,” as required under the No Child Left Behind law. Although states had to develop criteria for identifying such schools by last fall, nationwide only 38 schools in four states made the lists.

Resources: For the first time, in the summer and fall of 2003, Education Week surveyed the states about their policies on education finance. With the advice of school finance experts and the cooperation of finance officials in both state education agencies and revenue departments, eight new columns of information were added to the resources section.

Education Week found that 36 states use earmarked taxes or have lotteries that generate funds specifically for K-12 education. Twelve of those states have both.

Six states try to increase financial equity across districts through what are commonly called “Robin Hood” provisions. Those states have mechanisms to recapture money raised locally in property-wealthy districts and redistribute it to poorer districts. In nine states, the current system of funding has been ruled unconstitutional because of equity concerns.

For resource adequacy, funding for education increased in every state. The national average expenditure per pupil was $7,376 for the 2000-01 school year, a 6.7 percent increase from the prior year. Total taxable resources spent on education increased from 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent.

States saw fewer improvements in resource equity. Most states provide at least half of the total state and local revenue for education and target this aid to property-poor districts, but there are still inequities in most states linked to property wealth.

Only eight states can say that students in property-poor districts, on average, receive more aid than those in more affluent areas do.

A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 2004 edition of Education Week

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