Special Report
School & District Management

How We Graded the States

By Sterling C. Lloyd — January 17, 2018 9 min read
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CHANCE FOR SUCCESS

EARLY FOUNDATIONS

Family Income: Percent of dependent children (under 18 years of age) who live in above-low-income families. Low income is defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which depends on the size and composition of the family. Education Week Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2016.

Parent Education: Percent of dependent children with at least one parent who holds a two- or four-year postsecondary degree. Ibid.

Parental Employment: Percent of dependent children with at least one parent who is steadily employed, defined as working full time (at least 35 hours per week) and year-round (at least 50 weeks during the previous year). Those not in the labor force are excluded from calculations. Active-duty military service is considered participation in the labor force. Ibid.

Linguistic Integration: Percent of dependent children whose parents are fluent speakers of English. Fluency is defined as being a native speaker or speaking the language “very well.” All resident parents must be fluent in English for a family to be considered linguistically integrated. Ibid.

SCHOOL YEARS

Preschool Enrollment: Percent of 3- and 4-year-olds who are attending preschool, based on a three-year average. Both public and private education programs are counted. Education Week Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Kindergarten Enrollment: Percent of eligible children attending public or private kindergarten programs, based on a three-year average. The size of the entering kindergarten cohort is calculated based on the number of 5- and 6-year-olds in a state. Ibid.

Elementary Reading Achievement: Percent of 4th graders in public schools who scored at or above the “proficient” level in reading on the 2015 State NAEP assessment. National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 2015.

Middle School Mathematics Achievement: Percent of 8th graders in public schools who scored at or above the “proficient” level in mathematics on the 2015 State NAEP assessment. Ibid.

High School Graduation Rate: Percent of public high school students who graduated on time with a standard diploma for the 2015-16 school year. Quality Counts 2018 uses graduation rates calculated by states with the four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) method, as reported by the U.S. Department of Education.

Young-Adult Education: Percent of young adults (ages 18 to 24) who either are currently enrolled in a postsecondary education program or have already earned a postsecondary credential. Those still enrolled in high school programs are excluded from the calculation. Education Week Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2016.

ADULT OUTCOMES

Adult Educational Attainment: Percent of adults (ages 25 to 64) who have earned a postsecondary degree. Calculations include all individuals whose highest level of attained education is an associate, bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. Ibid.

Annual Income: Percent of adults (ages 25 to 64) whose annual personal income reaches or exceeds the national median ($40,303 in 2016 dollars). Only individuals in the labor force are included in calculations. Ibid.

Steady Employment: Percent of adults (ages 25 to 64) who are steadily employed, defined as working full time (at least 35 hours per week) and year-round (at least 50 weeks during the previous year). Those not in the labor force are excluded from calculations. Active-duty military service is considered participation in the labor force. Ibid.

SCHOOL FINANCE

EQUITY

The Education Week Research Center conducted an original analysis to calculate four distinct indicators that capture the degree to which education funding is equitably distributed across the districts within a state. Calculations for each equity indicator take into account regional differences in educational costs and the concentrations of low-income students and those with disabilities, whose services are more expensive than average. Students in poverty receive a weight of 1.2; students with disabilities receive a weight of 1.9.

Wealth-Neutrality Score: This indicator captures the degree to which a school district’s revenue (state and local sources) is correlated with its property-based wealth. Positive values indicate that wealthier districts have higher revenue levels. Education Week Research Center analysis using: U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 (district-level data); ACS Comparable Wage Index 2013-2015, as updated by Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University; U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Elementary- Secondary Education Finance Data for 2015; U.S. Census Bureau’s Small-Area Income and Poverty Estimates 2015. U.S. Department of Education’s School District Demographics data from the 2011-15 American Community Survey.

McLoone Index: Indicator value is the ratio of the total amount spent on pupils below the median to the amount that would be needed to raise all students to the median per-pupil expenditure in the state. The index defines perfect equity as a situation in which every district spends at least as much as the district serving the median student in the state (ranked according to per-pupil expenditures). Education Week Research Center analysis using: U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) 2013-14 and 2014-2015 (district-level data); ACS Comparable Wage Index 2013-2015, as updated by Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University; U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data for 2015; U.S. Census Bureau’s Small-Area Income and Poverty Estimates 2015.

Coefficient of Variation: This indicator measures the level of variability in funding across school districts in a state. The value is calculated by dividing the standard deviation of per-pupil expenditures (adjusted for regional cost differences and student needs) by the state’s average spending per pupil. Ibid.

Restricted Range: The restricted range is the difference between spending levels for the districts serving students at the 5th and 95th percentiles of the per-pupil-expenditure distribution. Ibid.

SPENDING

Adjusted Per-Pupil Expenditures: Average statewide per-student spending, adjusted for variations in regional costs using the NCES Comparable Wage Index 2015, as updated by Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University. Education Week Research Center analysis using: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: Fiscal Year 2015, June 2017.

Percent of Students in Districts with PPE at or Above U.S. Average: Expenditures are adjusted for regional differences in educational costs and the concentrations of low-income students and students with disabilities. Education Week Research Center analysis using: U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data for 2014; CCD district-level data 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 (district-level data); ACS Comparable Wage Index 2013-2015, as updated by Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University; and U.S. Census Bureau’s Small-Area Income and Poverty Estimates 2015.

Spending Index: Index gauges state spending according to the percent of students served by districts spending at or above the national average as well as the degree to which lower-spending districts fall short of that national benchmark. Expenditures are adjusted for regional differences in educational costs and the concentrations of low-income students and students with disabilities. Ibid.

Percent of Total Taxable Resources Spent on Education: Share of state resources spent on K-12 education. Education Week Research Center analysis using: state and local revenues from the U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: Fiscal Year 2015, June 2017; 2015 gross-state-product data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

How We Graded the States

The overall A-F letter grades for the nation and the states in Quality Counts 2018 are based on the average of scores on a traditional 100-point scale for three custom indices developed by the Education Week Research Center: Chance for Success, K-12 Achievement, and School Finance. Each category carries equal weight in the grading.

The overall grades incorporate the most recent information available for all three categories that make up Quality Counts’ full report-card framework and reflect original analyses of federal data for 39 distinct indicators. Results for the Chance-for-Success Index and the school finance analysis have been updated for the 2018 report. Scores for the K-12 Achievement Index, which make up one-third of this year’s overall grade, rely largely on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Because of a delay in the release of new NAEP scores, results for the index remain unchanged from Quality Counts 2016.

The Chance-for-Success Index, K-12 Achievement Index, and school finance are scored using a best-in-class rubric. Under this approach, the leading state on a particular indicator receives 100 points, and other states earn points in proportion to the gaps between themselves and the leader.

Best-in-Class Grading

The Chance-for-Success Index and school finance are scored using a best-in-class rubric. Under this approach, the leading state on a particular indicator receives 100 points, and other states earn points in proportion to the gaps between themselves and the leader.

This calculation is straightforward for indicators with a clearly bounded measurement scale. Examples of such indicators include the 100-point scale for the percent of students proficient in reading, or states’ per-pupil expenditures expressed in positive dollar amounts.

But some of the indicators—such as those related to the equity of education spending—use more-complex scales for which minimum or maximum values are not as clearly defined. For such indicators, we evaluate a particular state based on its performance relative to the minimum and maximum values on that indicator. Those indicators are scored on a 50-point base, meaning that all states start with 50 points rather than zero.

To compute a state’s score for a given category, we average points across the applicable set of indicators. On a best-in-class scale, a state’s overall score for a category can be gauged against an implicit standard where 100 points would correspond to a state that finished first in the nation on each and every measure.

The Grading Scale

Using the scoring rules already described, each state receives a numerical score for each of the indicator categories. After rounding scores to the closest whole-number values, we assign letter grades based on a conventional A-F grading scale, as follows:

A = 93 to 100

A-minus = 90 to 92

B-plus = 87 to 89

B = 83 to 86

B-minus = 80 to 82

C-plus = 77 to 79

C = 73 to 76

C-minus = 70 to 72

D-plus = 67 to 69

D = 63 to 66

D-minus = 60 to 62

F = Below 60

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