Special Report

States Show Spotty Progress on Education Gauges

By Amy M. Hightower — January 04, 2013 9 min read
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The 17th 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. Each year, Quality Counts provides new results for a portion of the policy-and-performance categories that form the framework for the report’s State-of-the-States analysis. The 2013 edition presents updated scores and letter grades, for the states and the nation as a whole, in three of the six major areas tracked in the report.

New analyses from the EPE Research Center for the Chance-for-Success Index and school finance categories, respectively, capture critical aspects of the broader educational environment and the level and equitability of school funding. In the other updated category, the center examines policies related to transitions and alignment across stages of education. Results for the three other areas in the State-of-the-States rubric—the K-12 Achievement Index, the teaching profession, and standards, assessments, and accountability—were updated for the 2012 report.

In addition to the evaluations of performance within those individual categories, readers will find overall, summative letter grades and scores for the nation and the states. Those grades incorporate the most recent information available across each of the six categories that make up the full Quality Counts report card. Each category carries equal weight when calculating the summative scores.

Grading Summary

1. Maryland 87.5

2. Massachusetts 84.1
3. New York 83.1
4. Virginia 82.9

5. Arkansas 81.7
6. Florida 81.1
7. Georgia 81.0
8. New Jersey 80.8
9. West Virginia 80.8
10. Kentucky 80.1
11. Vermont 79.9
12. Ohio 79.6

13. Wisconsin 79.4
14. Texas 79.4
15. Louisiana 79.0
16. Connecticut 78.9
17. Rhode Island 78.7
18. Pennsylvania 78.2
19. Delaware 78.0
20. Indiana 77.8
21. North Carolina 77.7
22. Tennessee 77.6
23. Wyoming 77.5
24. Michigan 77.3
25. New Hampshire 77.1
26. South Carolina 76.9
U.S. Average 76.9
27. North Dakota 76.8
28. Illinois 76.7
29. Hawaii 76.7
30. Alabama 76.6
31. Oklahoma 76.5

32. Colorado 76.1
33. Maine 75.9
34. Iowa 75.9
35. New Mexico 75.9
36. California 75.5
37. Kansas 75.2
38. Utah 74.6
39. Minnesota 74.2
40. Washington 73.8
41. Missouri 72.8
42. Oregon 72.7

43. Arizona 72.2
44. Montana 72.2
45. District of Columbia 71.5
46. Nebraska 71.2
47. Alaska 71.0
48. Mississippi 71.0
49. Idaho 70.9
50. Nevada 69.7

51. South Dakota 69.3

Note: States are ranked based on unrounded scores.

SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2013

For the fifth year in a row, Maryland posts the nation’s highest overall grade. Scoring 87.5 and earning a B-plus, Maryland finishes 3.4 points ahead of second-place Massachusetts, which is followed by New York and Virginia. For the first time, Kentucky (10th) joins the top-10 states, while Florida (sixth) regains its top-10 ranking after falling to 11th place in 2012. At the other end of the rankings, South Dakota was awarded a grade of D-plus. A majority of states fell near the middle of the grading curve, with 38 states earning grades between a C-minus and a C-plus. The United States as a whole gained a half-point from last year, bringing the national grade up to a C-plus, from a C.

Chance for Success

The Chance-for-Success Index provides a unique perspective on the link between education and beneficial outcomes at each stage of a person’s life. The index combines information from 13 indicators that span childhood through adulthood to capture three broad life stages: the early-childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood.

The grading for this section follows a “best in class” approach, which evaluates each state’s performance on a given criterion relative to the nation’s top-ranked state on that same indicator. The leading state is awarded 100 points for the indicator; other states receive points in proportion to their performance as benchmarked against the national leader.

Massachusetts remains at the top of the national rankings in Chance for Success for the sixth year running, with a grade of A-minus. Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont each receive a B-plus. Those states have collectively been the nation’s top scorers since the index was introduced in 2007. By contrast, two states—Nevada and New Mexico—each receive grades of D, placing their results roughly on par with past performance.

State Grading Data Download

Chance for SuccessPDF
Transitions and AlignmentPDF
School FinancePDF
K-12 Achievement (2012)PDF
Standards, Assessments, and Accountability (2012)PDF
Teaching Profession (2012)PDF

The nation as a whole earns a C-plus in the Chance-for-Success category, dropping by nearly a point from 2012. Sixteen states experienced a modest increase or decrease in their grades since last year’s report. Vermont increased its score the most, by 2.3 points, while Alaska and Wyoming lost the most ground, seeing their scores fall by 2.2 and 2.4 points, respectively.

Across the areas tracked by the Chance-for-Success Index, states perform best on indicators associated with opportunities to acquire a solid foundation for learning during the early years. However, the measures that capture participation and performance in formal schooling remain the driving force behind state rankings.

Transitions and Alignment

The category of transitions and alignment tracks state-policy efforts to better coordinate the connections between K-12 schooling and other segments of the education pipeline, with a particular focus on three critical stages: early-childhood education, college readiness, and career readiness. This section of the report monitors activity around a set of 14 individual policies, each of which factors equally into a state’s grade. The state’s final score reflects the number of policies a state has implemented.

This year’s average grade for transitions and alignment is a B-minus, marking an increase of nearly 3 points from two years ago, when the analysis was last updated. Since then, states have expanded their policymaking in each of the three areas the section examines, with activity slightly more pronounced in the college-readiness domain than in the early-childhood or economy-and-workforce domains. Twenty-five states have seen increases in their scores since 2011.

For the first time, a state has earned a perfect score in this section. Georgia has enacted all 14 policies to receive the maximum 100 points. In addition to Georgia, seven other states—Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Tennessee, and Texas—also receive an A for their progress in this policymaking arena. Utah—which rose from a C-minus in 2011 to a B-plus in 2013—saw the largest gain over the two-year period and nearly doubled the number of enacted policies tracked across all three stages of the education pipeline.

While seven states posted scores of D-plus or lower in 2011, only three states—Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota—perform at that level in 2013, which corresponds to implementation of just three or four of the 14 policies tracked by the report.

In linkages to early education, states made the biggest movement in the establishment of school-readiness definitions. In 2013, just over half the states (26) have such definitions, continuing an upward trajectory from 19 states in 2009 and 22 in 2011.

But the most significant movement occurred further along the pipeline, as many states enacted college-readiness policies aimed at preparing high school graduates for the rigors of postsecondary education. Here, states made progress in four of the five indicators tracked.

This year, we again see the influence of major national movements that promote college preparedness, including the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the federal Race to the Top program. Thirty-eight states have now defined college readiness, five more states than in 2011 and 18 more than in 2009.

In addition, 16 states now require all high school students to take a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma, an increase of six states since 2011. Twenty-one states have high school assessments aligned with their postsecondary systems, an increase of six states.

Overall, state efforts to connect education and workforce preparation remain the most mature of the areas examined in this section of Quality Counts. This year, 28 states have implemented all four economy-and-workforce policies examined in the report. We see growth in the number of state K-12 education systems defining work readiness, with 38 states doing so in 2013, compared with 33 in 2011 and 28 in 2009.

We see growth in the number of states offering students a pathway to a standard high school diploma that allows for career specialization, with 44 states doing so in 2013, compared with 38 states in 2011 and 37 in 2009.

School Finance

The final section of the State of the States examines a set of eight school-finance indicators. Half those measures encompass school spending patterns, while the other half focus on the distribution of resources within a state.

When gauging education expenditures, the EPE Research Center evaluates that spending relative to some applicable 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. We do not base our evaluations on raw dollars spent. Like the Chance-for-Success Index, school finance grades are calculated using a best-in-class rubric. The finance indicators in Quality Counts 2013 are based on data from 2010, the most recent year available.

This year, the nation as a whole earns a C for school finance, holding steady across the past several editions of the report in spite of turbulent economic times. The grades in this category tend to be tightly clustered, with 24 states scoring in the C-minus to C-plus range. Wyoming, a longtime leader in this section, receives the only grade of A this year, increasing its score by almost 4 points from the 2012 report. West Virginia, which ranks second in the nation with an A-minus, saw its score climb by more than 11 points over its 2012 results. That jump can be primarily attributed to a large increase in per-pupil expenditures ($1,074) over the past year. As a result, the percent of students in districts spending at or above the U.S. average soared from 17 percent to more than 88 percent, while its Spending Index score rose by 5 points since last year’s report. A large increase in West Virginia’s K-12 education spending during this period has been widely reported.

At the other end of the grading spectrum, four states—Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Utah—each receive grades of D, and Idaho receives a D-minus.

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 $13,535 in Alaska, the largest in the nation. At the other end of the spectrum, about $1,850 separates high- and low-spending school systems in Utah.

The 2013 Wealth Neutrality scores find that just five states—Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, and Wyoming—fund property-poor districts at equal or higher levels than their wealthier systems.

On average, states score considerably better on the equity measures tracked in Quality Counts 2013 than they do on the spending metrics.

However, few states rank at the top or bottom of the nation for both aspects of finance, and several post especially mixed performances. For example, nine of the states that earn an A or an A-minus on the equity measures tracked also earn an F on the set of spending indicators.

To put that disconnect in terms of state ranks, Utah is second in the country on equity of school funding, but dead last on spending. Conversely, Alaska and Vermont rank near the bottom (49th and 47th, respectively) on equity, but near the top (sixth and second, respectively) on education spending.


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