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50-State Report Card

By The Editors — December 31, 2008 4 min read
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Quality Counts 2009 is the 13th edition of Education Week’s series of annual report cards tracking state education policies and outcomes. Drawing heavily on data from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center’s annual state policy survey, the report once again offers a comprehensive state-by-state analysis of key indicators of student success. With English-language learners as the special focus of this year’s report, it also, for the first time, provides 50-state information on this diverse and growing student subgroup, complemented by explanatory articles from Education Week reporters.

The framework of this year’s report reflects the research center’s decision to move the annual state survey to a modular design that collects data on specific topics on an every-other-year basis. This change was made in part to ease the burden on state respondents, while still providing timely and detailed information. This year’s state survey did not seek data on the teaching profession, or on standards, assessments, and accountability. Those topics will be included in the next round of surveys and should reappear as graded categories in Quality Counts 2010.

Instead, the states this year receive individual letter grades in three areas that, together, include 35 educational indicators. Those graded categories are: the Chance-for Success-Index, developed by the EPE Research Center and capturing key facets of education spanning stages from childhood to adulthood, policies related to transitions and alignment, and school funding and finance equity.

Chance-for-Success Index

First introduced in Quality Counts 2007, the Chance-for-Success Index combines information from 13 indicators intended to offer perspective on the role that education plays as a person moves from childhood, through the formal K-12 school system, and into the workforce. Among these indicators, upon which the states are graded, are family income, parental education and employment, high school graduation rates, and adult educational attainment, employment status, and annual income.

The nation as a whole earned a C-plus on this year’s Chance-for-Success Index—the same as last year—and this year’s report found a similar pattern of high- and low-ranking states as in the previous year. Massachusetts topped the list for the second year running, the only state to earn an A. Clustered close behind with grades of A-minus were Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. At the other end of the spectrum, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico earned grades of D-plus.

Transitions and Alignment

As in the past, this year’s report tracks and grades the states on 14 indicators assessing how well the states smooth the transition through the educational pipeline, including early-childhood education, college readiness, and the economy and workforce. Once again, the nation overall showed no change on transitions and alignment, earning a C for policies in this category. At the state level, Maryland, New Mexico, and West Virginia each received an A for implementing at least 12 of the monitored policies.

Quality Counts 2009 found that states are making considerable progress in the area of early-childhood education. For the first time, every state and the District of Columbia have aligned kindergarten learning expectations with elementary and secondary standards. Further along the education pipeline, however, only three states—New York, Rhode Island, and Texas—require a college-preparatory curriculum as a condition of high school graduation.

School Finance

In the area of school funding, this year’s report analyzes school spending patterns and how equitably that funding is distributed among districts within each state. The nation as a whole received a grade of C-plus for school finance, led by Rhode Island and Wyoming with grades of A-minus. At the bottom of the state rankings were Idaho, Louisiana, and Nevada, each of which received a D.

English-Language Learners

Quality Counts 2009 includes a detailed look at how states are tackling the challenge of educating the nation’s 5.1 million English-language learners. Topics include: current research, specialized teacher preparation, screening and assessment of English-learners, and ways in which state funding resources and priorities affect programs for English-learners. Among the highlights:

• Nationally, the achievement gap between English-learners and all public school students is significant, whether measured by proficiency on state-devised assessments or on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For example, only 9.6 percent of 4th and 8th grade ELLs scored “proficient” or higher in mathematics on NAEP in 2007, compared with 34.8 percent of students as a whole. The gap was similar in reading: 5.6 percent of ELLs scored proficient when measured as a group, compared with a national average of 30.4 percent.

• States vary widely in whether their ELL students are making progress toward English-language proficiency. Connecticut, for example, reported that just 1.4 percent of its English-learners failed to make headway, while Maine placed 44.9 percent of its students in that category. Nationally, one-quarter of ELLs were deemed not making progress.

• Although 33 states set teacher standards for the instruction of English-learners, only three—Arizona, Florida, and New York—require that all prospective teachers show they are competent to teach such students.

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