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Sources and Notes: How We Graded the States (Quality Counts 2021)

By EdWeek Research Center — January 19, 2021 | Updated: September 01, 2021 10 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. EdWeek Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2019.

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. EdWeek Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

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 2019 State NAEP assessment. National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 2019.

Middle School Mathematics Achievement: Percent of 8th graders in public schools who scored at or above the “proficient” level in mathematics on the 2019 State NAEP assessment. Ibid.

High School Graduation Rate: Percent of public high school students who graduated on time with a standard diploma for the 2017-18 school year. Quality Counts 2021 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. EdWeek Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2019.

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 ($45,457 in 2019 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 EdWeek 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. EdWeek Research Center analysis using: U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018 (district-level data); U.S. Department of Education’s American Community Survey Comparable Wage Index for Teachers (ACS-CWIFT) 2017-2018; NCES Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data for 2018; U.S. Census Bureau’s Small-Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) 2017, 2018. SAIPE data for 2013-2014 were used for Vermont because more recent information was not available. U.S. Department of Education’s School District Demographics data from the five-year 2018 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). EdWeek Research Center analysis using: U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018 (district-level data); U.S. Department of Education’s American Community Survey Comparable Wage Index for Teachers (ACS-CWIFT) 2017-2018; NCES Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data for 2018; U.S. Census Bureau’s Small-Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) 2017, 2018. SAIPE data for 2013-2014 were used for Vermont because more recent information was not available.

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 2018, as updated by Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University. EdWeek Research Center analysis using: NCES Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data for 2018, Public Education Finances: Fiscal Year 2018.

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. EdWeek Research Center analysis using: NCES Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data for 2018; CCD district-level data 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018 (district-level data); U.S. Department of Education’s American Community Survey Comparable Wage Index for Teachers (ACS-CWIFT) 2017-2018; and U.S. Census Bureau’s Small-Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) 2017, 2018. SAIPE data for 2013-2014 were used for Vermont because more recent information was not available.

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. EdWeek Research Center analysis using: state and local revenues from the NCES, Public Education Finances: Fiscal Year 2018; 2018 gross-state-product data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

K-12 Achievement

Achievement Level

NAEP Mathematics 2019 (4th and 8th grades): Percent of public school students who score at or above the “proficient” level in mathematics on the 2019 State NAEP assessment. National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 2019.

NAEP Reading 2019 (4th and 8th grades): Percent of public school students who score at or above the “proficient” level in reading on the 2019 State NAEP assessment. Ibid.

Achievement Gains

NAEP Mathematics Change 2003-2019 (4th and 8th grades): Change in NAEP scale scores for public school students between 2003 and 2019. Ibid.

NAEP Reading Change 2003-2019 (4th and 8th grades): Change in NAEP scale scores for public school students between 2003 and 2019. Ibid.

Poverty Gap

Poverty Gap (4th grade reading and 8th grade math): Scale-score difference in 2019 NAEP achievement between public school students eligible and noneligible for the National School Lunch Program. Larger values indicate wider gaps in performance with higher scores for non-eligible students. Ibid.

Poverty-Gap Change 2003-2019 (4th grade reading and 8th grade math): Change in the size of the poverty gap for public school students between 2003 and 2019. Negative values indicate a narrowing gap. Ibid.

Achieving Excellence

NAEP Mathematics 2019 Percent Advanced (8th grade): Percent of public school students who score at the “advanced” level in mathematics on the 2019 State NAEP assessment. Ibid.

NAEP Mathematics Percent Advanced Change 2003-2019 (8th grade): Change in the percent of students scoring at the NAEP “advanced” level in mathematics between 2003 and 2019. Ibid.

High School Graduation

High School Graduation Rate: Percent of public high school students who graduated on time with a standard diploma for the 2018-19 school year. Quality Counts 2021 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.

Change in Graduation Rate: Change in public high school graduation rate between 2014 and 2019. Ibid.

Advanced Placement

High AP Test Scores: Number of high AP test scores (3 or above) per 100 students in grades 11 and 12. Analysis is specific to public school students. EdWeek Research Center analysis using: College Board’s AP Summary Reports 2020; U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data 2020.

Change in High AP Scores: Change in the ratio of high AP scores for public school students between 2000 and 2020. Ibid.

How We Graded the States

Best-in-Class Grading

Quality Counts is 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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A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2021 edition of Education Week as Methodology and Grading Scale

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