States From Our Research Center

Quality Counts 2021: Educational Opportunities and Performance in District of Columbia

By EdWeek Research Center — January 19, 2021 | Updated: September 01, 2021 5 min read
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Based on a comprehensive analysis of data, the Quality Counts report card answers a key question: Where does my state rank for educational opportunities and performance?

States are graded and ranked in three categories: Chance for Success (January), School Finance (June), and K-12 Achievement (September). A state’s overall grade, published in September, is the average of its scores on the three separate indices tracked for the report card.

State Overview

This year, the District of Columbia finishes 15th in the nation, with an overall score of 78.8 out of 100 points and a grade of C-plus. The nation as a whole posts a grade of C.

Diving into the findings for the three graded indices, the District of Columbia earns a B-plus in the Chance-for-Success category and ranks sixth. The average state earns a B-minus. Because the District of Columbia is a single-district jurisdiction, it is not issued a grade for school finance, which analyzes the distribution of funding across districts within a state. For the K-12 Achievement Index, it finishes 29th with a grade of C-minus. The average state earns a grade of C in both School Finance and K-12 Achievement. More details on results in these categories are reported below.

Chance for Success: Gauging Educational Opportunities

The EdWeek Research Center developed the Chance-for-Success Index to better understand the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime. Based on an original state-by-state analysis, this index combines information from 13 indicators that span a person’s life from cradle to career. Those indicators fall into three sub-sections: early foundations, school years, and adult outcomes.

The index evaluates each state using a range of measuring sticks, including:

  • How educated are parents?
  • What share of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool?
  • Are K-12 students proficient in reading and math?
  • What’s the high school graduation rate?
  • What percentage of adults have steady employment?

Diving into the findings, District of Columbia earns a B-plus in the Chance-for-Success category and ranks sixth. The average state earns a B-minus.

Early Foundations: Are Kids Getting Off to a Good Start?

For early foundations, which examines factors that help children get off to a good start, District of Columbia earns a B and ranks 32nd. The average state posts a B.

School Years: How Are Students Faring in School?

District of Columbia receives a B-minus for the school years, a sub-category focusing on metrics related to pre-K enrollment through postsecondary participation. It finishes 12th in the nation in this area. By comparison, the nation as a whole earns a C-plus.

Adult Outcomes: Are Adults Finding Opportunities for Success?

In the area of adult outcomes, based on postsecondary educational attainment and workforce indicators, District of Columbia’s grade is an A. It ranks first in the nation. The national average is a C-plus.

School Finance: Grading the States on Spending and Equity

Because the District of Columbia is a single-district jurisdiction, it is not issued a grade for school finance, which analyzes the distribution of funding across districts within a state. The nation as a whole posts a grade of C.

The school finance analysis examines two critical aspects of school spending. Of the eight indicators in this category, four assess school spending patterns, while the remaining metrics gauge equity in the distribution of funding across the districts within each state.

Spending: How Much Are States Devoting to Education?

The spending metrics shed light on major questions, such as:

  • What does the state spend per-pupil when adjusted for regional cost differences?
  • What percent of students are in districts with per-pupil spending at or above the U.S. average?
  • What share of total taxable resources are spent on education?

Across the spending indicators, the District of Columbia finishes with an A-minus compared with a national average of D. The District of Columbia ranks second in the nation in this area.

Equity: How Are Funds Distributed Across Districts?

For each state, topics covered by the equity analysis include:

  • To what degree does funding for property-poor districts differ from that of their wealthier counterparts?
  • How different are the spending levels of the highest- and lowest-spending districts?

As a single-district jurisdiction, the District of Columbia does not receive a grade on equity measures. The nation as a whole earns a B-plus.

K-12 Achievement

The K-12 Achievement Index examines 18 distinct achievement measures related to reading and math performance, high school graduation rates, and the results of Advanced Placement exams. The index assigns equal weight to current levels of performance and changes over time. It also places an emphasis on equity, by examining both poverty-based gaps and progress in closing those gaps.

Indicators in the index can be broken down into three sub-categories: status, change, and equity.

The index provides information on key questions, such as:

  • What percentage of 4th and 8th graders are proficient in reading and math?
  • How has student achievement changed over time?
  • How large are gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers? Have those gaps narrowed over time?

Status: How Are Students Performing Today?

Measures in the status sub-category evaluate a state’s current performance. The District of Columbia receives a D-minus in this area and ranks 43rd in the nation. The average state earns a C-minus.

Change: Has State Achievement Improved Over Time?

The change sub-category examines a state’s improvement over time. In this area, the District of Columbia posts an A and ranks first. The national average is a D-plus.

Equity: How Large Are Poverty-Based Gaps?

In the equity sub-section, states are graded based on disparities between low-income students and their more affluent peers. The District of Columbia’s grade on those poverty-gap measures stands at an F. Nationally, it ranks 51st in this area. The nation as a whole receives a B-minus.

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