Special Report
School & District Management

What’s Behind the Grades and Scores?

January 21, 2020 3 min read
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Quality Counts grades all 50 states and the nation on the Chance-for-Success Index, which gives a snapshot of a person’s prospect of successful outcomes over a lifetime, from early childhood to adulthood and the working world.

But what’s behind those top-line numbers and letter grades? Here’s how it’s done:

• The EdWeek Research Center collects the most recently available federal data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Assessment of Education Progress, the U.S. Department of Education, and other sources to get a more-detailed portrait of how people are likely to fare from their earliest years through adulthood.

• The states are scored and graded on 13 separate indicators. Four of them deal with conditions related to early childhood that can make a big difference in the years before formal schooling. Six others focus on formal education from preschool through the college years. And another three offer a snapshot of adult outcomes, completing the cradle-to-career trajectory.

• All these calculations then are blended for each state’s final A-F grade and numerical score

Here’s a quick and easy guide to the grading scale and each of the 13 indicators that make up the Chance for Success grade. For more detail, see this report’s full sources and notes page.)

The Grading Scale

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

Family Income: Percent of dependent children (under 18 years of age) in families that are above low income. Low income is defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which depends on the size and composition of the family.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Elementary Reading Achievement: Percent of 4th graders in public schools who scored at or above the “proficient” level in reading on the 2019 NAEP, known as “the Nation’s Report Card.”

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

High School Graduation Rate: Percent of public high school students who graduated on time with a standard diploma for the 2016-17 school year.

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.

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.

Annual Income: Percent of adults (ages 25 to 64) whose annual personal income reaches or exceeds the national median ($42,550 in 2018 dollars). Only individuals in the labor force are included in calculations.

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.

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Source: EdWeek Research Center, 2020
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 2020 edition of Education Week as Methodology: What’s Behind the Grades and Scores?

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