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School & District Management

2016 Education Rankings Put States, Nation to the Test

By EdWeek Research Center — December 30, 2015 | Corrected: January 26, 2016 5 min read
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Corrected: The Quality Counts 2016 report, published as the Jan. 7 issue of Education Week and online, included errors in the school finance analysis. This article has been revised to correct information regarding per-pupil expenditures, as well as grades and scores in summative results and school finance. Details are available at www.edweek.org/go/qc16correct.

The Quality Counts 2016 report, published as the Jan. 7 issue of Education Week and online, included errors in the school finance analysis. This article has been revised to correct information regarding per-pupil expenditures, as well as grades and scores in summative results and school finance. Details are available at www.edweek.org/go/qc16correct.

As Education Week‘s Quality Counts turns 20, the nation has posted a solid C—the same as last year—on the report’s 2016 summative-grading indicator.

The report card has evolved through the years, taking on its current, streamlined form in 2015. That form incorporates state and national grades on three indices developed by the Education Week Research Center.

• The Chance-for-Success Index provides a cradle-to-career perspective on the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes throughout a person’s life.

• The K-12 Achievement Index rates states on current academic performance, change over time, and poverty-based gaps.

• The school finance analysis assesses spending patterns and equity.

The 2016 summative grade of C corresponds to a 74.4 out of 100, up slightly from 74.3 in 2015, when the nation also earned a C.

State Grading Data Download
Grading SummaryPDF
Chance for SuccessPDF
School FinancePDF
K-12 AchievementPDF

To score the states, the research center employs a “best-in-class” approach. For each indicator in a given category, the top state receives 100 points. All other states are awarded points based on their performance relative to that state. Category scores are calculated as the average of scores across indicators. A state’s overall summative score is the average of the three graded categories. For the summative grades and the three categories, A-plus is the highest possible grade, and 100 is the highest possible score.

For the second year in a row, Massachusetts finished first. Long a fixture of the top five, the Bay State beat its own 2015 result, raising its grade from a B (86.2) to a B-plus (86.8). Although New Jersey (85.1), Vermont (83.8), and Maryland (82.7) all received grades of B, Massachusetts was the only state to score a B-plus.

Nevada ranked last in the 2016 report, with a grade of D and a score of 65.2. The two other states earning Ds were Mississippi (65.6), which ranked last in 2015, and New Mexico (65.8). The majority of states (33) earned midrange grades between C-minus and C-plus.

Between the 2015 and 2016 reports, the District of Columbia experienced the greatest change. The jurisdiction leapfrogged 10 spots, from 38th to 28th in the nation, as its grade increased from a C-minus (70.0) to a C (72.9).

Chance for Success

The Chance-for-Success Index consists of 13 indicators that capture early opportunities, progress through the K-12 system, and educational and workforce outcomes in adulthood.

The nation earned a C-plus on the Chance-for-Success Index in 2016, the same grade it has received each year since 2008. However, its numeric score inched upward from 77.5 to 77.8 out of 100 between 2015 and 2016. Results improved slightly for early educational foundations in childhood and adult outcomes, but declined modestly for the K-12 school years.

For the ninth straight year, Massachusetts (92.3) topped the rankings in this category. The state earned the only A-minus on the index. Connecticut (87.4), New Hampshire (89.1), New Jersey (88.1), Minnesota (87.4), and Vermont (86.8) posted grades of B-plus. At the other end of the grading scale, New Mexico (66.9) and Nevada (66.5) received a D-plus and a D, respectively. Nineteen states recorded grades of C or lower.

Scores in 33 states improved compared with last year, with seven increasing by more than a full point. The District of Columbia made the largest strides, gaining more than 2 full points. It experienced substantial improvements in family income and parental employment. Arizona, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Utah, and Vermont also gained more than a point. By contrast, four states—Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, and North Dakota saw declines exceeding a full point.

K-12 Achievement

The K-12 Achievement Index is made up of 18 distinct indicators capturing current academic performance, gains over time, and equity as measured by poverty-based disparities. Results on the index are based largely on National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. Because these scores are released every two years, the index is updated on the same schedule. Also included in the indicator are Advanced Placement exam results and high school graduation rates, as calculated by the National Center for Education Statistics.

This year, the nation earned a C-minus for K-12 Achievement. Although the letter grade has not changed, the underlying numeric scores have demonstrated progress, climbing from 69.7 in 2012 and 70.2 in 2014 to 71.0 out of 100 this year.

The nation saw a decline in the percentage of 8th graders scoring at the “advanced” level on NAEP math between 2013 and 2015. By contrast, the percentage of students earning high scores on AP exams increased markedly since the index was last reported in 2014.

Massachusetts (85.2) continued its streak as the top-performing state for K-12 Achievement, earning the only B. It has been the leader in the rankings every year the index has been reported. New Jersey (81.0), the only other state with a grade higher than a C-plus, earned a B-minus this year. Mississippi (60.0) and New Mexico (61.8) received grades of D-minus, the lowest in the nation.

School Finance

The school finance analysis examines school spending patterns and the distribution of funding across districts within each state. The finance indicators in Quality Counts 2016 are based on the most recent available data, which is from 2013.

The nation’s grade of C for school finance has remained the same for the past six years, although its numeric score decreased from 75.3 out of 100 a year ago to 74.4 this year.

New York (88.1) earned the nation’s highest score of B-plus. After seven consecutive years as the top-ranked state, Wyoming (87.7) slipped to second place. Nineteen states recorded scores ranging from C-minus to C-plus. Idaho (59.0) was the only state to receive an F.

The U.S. average for per-pupil spending stands at $11,841, after adjusting for regional cost differences. Vermont had the highest per-pupil spending at $19,134. On the other end of the spectrum, Utah, the lowest-ranking state, spends $7,084.

States received better marks for equity than for spending. The average grade for spending was D compared with a B for equity. However, inequities persist within states. The Wealth Neutrality Indicator revealed that only one state, Alaska, provided more funding for poorer districts than for their more affluent counterparts. But Alaska was also last in the nation with respect to the Restricted Range indicator, which measures the gap between per-pupil funding in districts at the 95th and 5th percentiles for expenditures.

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Alexandra Harwin, Sterling C. Lloyd, Andrew Riemer, and Holly Yettick prepared this report.


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