Special Report

State of the States: Holding All States to High Standards

By Amy M. Hightower — January 07, 2010 10 min read
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The 14th edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts continues the report’s tradition of tracking key education indicators and grading the states on their policy efforts and outcomes. This edition features new analysis from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center on state policies related to the teaching profession as well as standards, assessments, and accountability. It also highlights the state of the states in two performance-focused areas: the Chance-for-Success Index and school finance.

This year’s special focus on state efforts to develop common standards and assessments, featured elsewhere in the report, also draws on original data and analysis from the research center.

In the print edition of Quality Counts 2010, readers will find separate state grades for each of the four policy and performance categories updated for this year’s report: the Chance-for-Success Index; the teaching profession; standards, assessments, and accountability; and school finance.

The 88 indicators on which these grades are based were drawn primarily from original survey data and analysis by the EPE Research Center, and supplemented by information from a number of outside organizations. Summative state grades that incorporate additional indicator categories that were not updated this year appear online.

Chance for Success

The Chance-for-Success Index provides perspective on the role of education in promoting beneficial outcomes at each stage of a person’s life. As in past years, the 13 indicators that constitute the index capture three broad life stages: the early-childhood years, participation and performance in formal K-12 education, and adult educational attainment and workforce outcomes.

Massachusetts earns the only A, followed by Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, each earning an A-minus. These states have remained at the top of national rankings since the index was introduced in 2007. By contrast, three states—Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico—receive a grade of D-plus, similar to their past results. The nation as a whole earns a C-plus.

We continue to find that factors associated with participation and performance in formal schooling are the driving force behind state rankings. States differ somewhat in the opportunities for children to acquire a solid foundation during the early years and for job prospects in adulthood. However, the extent to which states deliver on the promise of elementary and secondary education proves to be most influential to residents’ opportunities.

The Teaching Profession

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Chance for Success PDF
The Teaching Profession PDF
School Finance PDF
Standards, Assessments, and Accountability PDF

Slightly revised since its debut in Quality Counts 2008, our teaching-profession framework consists of 44 indicators that capture three critical aspects of state teacher policy: accountability for quality; incentives and allocation; and efforts to build and support the capacity of the teaching workforce. The nation earns a C, with South Carolina earning the highest grade, the only A awarded this year. Alaska and Oregon rank last, each earning an F.

See Also

See related interactive map,

Quality Counts 2010 - State Report Cards

Setting formal requirements for earning a teaching license continues to be the most common state strategy for exerting control over teacher quality. Most states have established basic-skills and subject-specific testing requirements for both traditional- and alternative-route teachers. But fewer than half of the 27 states that require candidates from traditional teacher-preparation backgrounds to have substantial formal coursework in their prospective subject areas also apply that standard to alternative-route candidates. Testing policies related to licensure are more likely to apply equally to both traditional- and alternative-route entrants to the profession.

While 44 states mandate some form of teacher evaluation, only 15 require that such evaluations occur at least annually for all teachers, and only 13 require that the evaluations take student achievement into account. All states and the District of Columbia now assign a unique identification number to each teacher, but just 20 use those codes to match teacher and student by course or subject and state-assessment results.

Perhaps in response to the difficult economic and budget environment, we find a notable drop in the number of states that provide funding incentives for teachers to earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, down to 31 states from 38 states in 2008. Roughly one-quarter of the states (12) offer incentives for nationally certified teachers to work in low-performing or other targeted schools.

Incentives to encourage teachers to tackle hard-to-staff assignments are more common and on the rise for teachers taken as a whole. Twenty-five states provide incentives for teachers to work in targeted schools, up from 20 states in 2008. Seventeen states offer incentives for teachers to work in hard-to-staff teaching-assignment areas.

Researchers have devoted considerable attention to examining the role of financial compensation in recruiting, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers. An original EPE Research Center analysis shows, however, that teachers’ salaries in most states are not on par with those of workers in comparable occupations.

Our Pay-Parity Index, which benchmarks teacher earnings against wages of similar workers in the same state, shows that teachers typically earn 89 cents for every dollar earned by comparable workers. In fact, teacher salaries reach or exceed those of comparable workers in only nine states. The center’s policy survey also shows that few states are experimenting with alternative forms of incentives or compensation.

Although research has consistently found school leadership and working conditions to be among the key factors affecting teacher job satisfaction, effectiveness, and retention, our survey results generally show only moderate adoption of many state-policy measures that support the work of in-service educators.

Linking Teacher Evaluation to Student Performance

Among the most active areas of state reform are initiatives to strengthen state data systems and to base teachers’ evaluations, at least in part, on their students’ academic performance. For the 2009-10 school year, information systems in 20 states are able to link teacher records to student data that include course or subject and state-assessment results. Thirteen states also tie teacher evaluation in some way to student performance. However, only seven of those states have implemented these policies in tandem.


SOURCES: Data Quality Campaign, 2009; EPE Research Center, 2010

Forty states have formal professional-development standards, although only 24 states provide funding for such activities, and just 16 require districts to set aside time for educators to engage in professional development. Twenty-three states require all new teachers to take part in either an induction or mentoring program funded by the state. All states and the District of Columbia have standards for administrator licensure, but only 19 require prospective principals to take part in an induction or mentoring program.

Half the states track school facility information, but only four—Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, and South Carolina—use teacher-survey data to regularly monitor and publicly report on school climate and working conditions.

Standards, Assessments, and Accountability

One of the longest-standing elements of Quality Counts’ state-of-the-states framework is its examination of policies related to standards, assessments, and school accountability. This is also the area where states post the highest scores, with the nation earning a B in this year’s report. Eleven states are awarded an A, with top-ranking West Virginia receiving a near-perfect score. Montana and Nebraska rank last in the nation, earning a D-plus and a D-minus, respectively.

Two changes in this year’s survey of standards policies may have an effect on state grades.

First, a pair of indicators on states’ adoption and scheduled revision of academic-content standards has been eliminated.

Second, a long-standing set of four indicators that assessed the quality of state content standards by judging whether they were “clear, specific, and grounded in content,”―is no longer being updated by the American Federation of Teachers, the historical source of that information. In place of those measures, the EPE Research Center now examines whether states have grade- or course-specific standards in the core subject areas at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. This year, in each core subject, roughly half the states received credit for having such standards at all three schooling levels.

As a result of these changes, readers are advised not to make direct comparisons with the standards scores and grades from previous editions of Quality Counts.

Curriculum resources can be important tools for bringing standards to life in the classroom. Almost all states provide supplementary resources to complement their content standards, with 42 states providing such resources in all core academic areas, and 39 offering materials geared to particular student populations, such as English-language learners and special education students. To assist educators in assessing student learning on a more frequent basis, 27 states provide benchmark assessments or item banks linked to state standards, an increase from 21 states two years ago.

Multiple-choice questions remain the core of state assessments; they are used in every grade span by all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Test items requiring students to provide short answers are used at every school level in 29 states. Extended-response items have become a standard feature of testing in English/language arts (used in 45 states), although only 24 states employ such items in other subjects.

Twenty-four states have developed school-rating systems that go beyond accountability measures mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Thirty-one states provide rewards to high-performing or improving schools. A majority of states hold all schools,―not just the schools that receive federal Title I funding for economically disadvantaged students,―to account for their performance.

Such accountability measures have changed little over the past two years, with 38 states currently offering assistance to low-performing schools, and 32 states imposing some type of sanction intended to spur improvement.

School Finance

The school finance section of Quality Counts tracks state performance on eight distinct measures of equity and spending, which are among the most commonly employed in the field of education finance. When gauging spending patterns, the EPE Research Center does not focus on sheer dollars spent. Rather, we evaluate educational expenditures against some relevant criterion or benchmark, such as regional differences in costs, the national average for per-pupil expenditures, or the total size of a state’s budget.

Because our data are drawn from 2007, the impacts of the current economic downturn will not be reflected here.

For 2010, the nation earns an overall grade of C on school finance, representing a 2-point decline from the 2009 report. The individual state grades tend to be tightly clustered, with half of states scoring in the C-plus to C-minus range.

This year, Wyoming leads thenation with an A-minus, followed by Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, each earning a B-plus. Five states—Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Utah—receive a D.

Finance grades are not issued for Hawaii and the District of Columbia because they are single-district jurisdictions. It thus is not possible to calculate scores for equity indicators, which deal with the distribution of funds across multiple school districts.

States tend to fare better on the equity measures examined in Quality Counts 2010 than on the spending indicators. No state, however, ranks at the top or bottom of the nation for both aspects of finance.

For instance, while Vermont ranks first in the nation for the set of spending indicators examined, it ranks near the bottom in equitable distribution of those dollars. Utah ranks last on spending, but second for equity indicators.

Nationally, the research center’s equity analysis continues to find wide disparities in funding patterns across districts in many states.

For example, the Restricted Range indicator, which reports the difference in per-pupil spending levels for districts at the 95th and 5th expenditure percentiles, finds a gap of $10,806 in Alaska, the largest in the nation. At the other extreme, a gap of less than $2,000 separates high- and low-spending school systems in Utah.

The Wealth-Neutrality Score, which measures the correlation between district spending and property-based wealth, shows that eight states fund property-poor districts at higher levels than they fund wealthier systems.


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