Special Report

Grading the States’ Outcomes, Policies

By The Editors — January 03, 2008 7 min read
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In 2006, after a decade of producing Quality Counts, Education Week decided to take a hiatus from grading states on their efforts to improve public education as part of this annual report. We spent the past year revising our indicators to reflect the latest and best thinking from the field. Now, with the publication of the 2008 report, we are reintroducing state grades, but with several key differences.

First, we’re grading states on their performance outcomes as well as on their policy efforts. Second, we’re grading states on their efforts to better align policies across the various levels of education—from early-childhood education to postsecondary study and training. And, third, we’re introducing a greatly revised set of indicators on the teaching profession that looks more broadly at state efforts to attract, develop, and deploy talent in education, including some new indicators related to school principals.

Last year, Quality Counts introduced two new measures of state performance on which we are now grading states:

Chance-for-Success Index

The Chance-for-Success Index calculates the odds that a child who grows up in a particular state will perform as well as the average child in the top-ranked state on 13 key benchmarks from birth to adulthood. Those indicators include the percent of children who enroll in preschool, perform at the “proficient” level in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, graduate from high school, and enroll in and complete postsecondary education.

No state earned a perfect score, though several fared very well. Massachusetts leads the nation with the only A, followed by Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, each earning an A-minus.

K-12 Achievement Index

The K-12 Achievement Index focuses more explicitly on student learning in elementary through high school. It assigns points to each state based on how its students perform compared with students in the top-ranked state on 18 separate indicators. Those indicators are evenly divided across measures of current performance and changes over time. This index also captures achievement gaps between poor and nonpoor students, as well as progress in closing those gaps.

The top-achieving state, Massachusetts, earned 85.2 points and a B. Maryland was the only other state to receive a B, while New Jersey earned a B-minus.

In addition to grading on those new performance measures, Quality Counts 2008 reintroduces grading in four areas of state policymaking: standards, assessments, and accountability; the teaching profession; school finance; and efforts to better align education policy from preschool through postsecondary education and careers—“transitions and alignment” indicators that we first introduced last year.

Standards, Assessments, and Accountability

This section has changed the least among our policy indicators. An analysis conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center in 2006 found a positive relationship between states that had enacted strong standards, assessments, and accountability systems, based on our indicators, and gains on NAEP. With an average grade of B, states make a strong showing in this category. Indiana, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia earned an A. Ten states earned an A-minus.

Transitions and Alignment

This category includes such indicators as whether states have adopted a definition of school readiness, require all high school students to complete a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma, and have adopted definitions of college and workforce readiness.

The leading states—Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have implemented at least 10 of the 14 alignment policies tracked in this year’s survey.

School Finance

Our revised school finance section grades states across the dual dimensions of school spending and the equitable distribution of resources. The eight measures of equity and spending that appear in this section represent some of the most commonly used indicators in school finance research. This year, only West Virginia earned an A, while New Jersey earned an A-minus.

The Teaching Profession

The category in which we have made the biggest changes this year is our focus on teaching.

Research has found that teaching matters more to student learning than any other school-related factor. In the past, Quality Counts graded state efforts to improve teaching based, largely, on the state’s role as a gatekeeper, by determining which institutions can prepare teachers and setting the standards for who can earn a teaching license. But given the critical importance of teaching in raising student achievement, we decided to expand our indicators to look more broadly at the state’s role in attracting, developing, deploying, and keeping the very best education workforce possible.

Our new set of indicators for the teaching profession focuses on three major areas in which states can advance human-capital development in education: accountability for quality; incentives to attract talented people into teaching and keep them there, and to allocate talent equitably across schools and districts; and initiatives to build and support effective teaching, both during the early stages of a teacher’s career and through ongoing professional development and positive working conditions.

We found that most states now require prospective teachers to have a major or its equivalent in the subjects they plan to teach, and to pass basic-skills and subject-matter tests to earn a teaching license.

But states have exerted less quality control when it comes to teacher-preparation programs. Thirty states rate such programs based on the percent of their graduates who pass state licensing exams, and 18 states hold teacher-preparation programs accountable for the performance of their graduates in the classroom.

States also have been less active in ensuring rigorous, regular evaluations of teachers’ on-the-job performance. While 43 states require all teachers to be formally evaluated, only 26 require formal training for those who do the evaluations, only 12 require that those evaluations occur at least annually, and 12 base teachers’ evaluations at least partly on the achievement of their students.

A majority of states now have data systems that are able to track teacher qualifications and assignments. But only 12 states can match teacher records with students’ coursetaking and assessment results—a prerequisite for measuring teachers’ effectiveness in raising achievement.

Quality Counts 2008 also includes a number of new indicators that look at incentives to attract and keep people in the teaching profession. A special analysis conducted by the EPE Research Center for the report found that, on average, teachers earn 88 cents for every dollar earned in 16 comparable occupations. Perhaps as important, workers in other occupations have a greater chance to earn above-average salaries than do teachers, whose wage ranges are more compressed.

State-level results show that the competitiveness of teacher salaries varies greatly across the nation. In the states where teachers fare the worst, the parity index drops below 80 on a scale where 100 would represent parity with the 16 comparable occupations in those states. North Carolina posts a score of 78.8 and Missouri, 79.3. By contrast, teachers earn as much as or more than workers in comparable occupations in 10 states, with the highest teacher-parity scores found in Montana (110.2) and Rhode Island (111.8).

Only seven states are currently experimenting with pay-for-performance programs, which reward teachers based, at least in part, on gains in student achievement. Just 17 states provide incentives or rewards to veteran teachers who take on leadership roles outside the classroom.

States have become more active in providing incentives for teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools or subjects. Twenty states provide incentives to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools. And 16 states provide incentives for teachers to work in such shortage fields as mathematics and science.

Research consistently shows that the quality of school leadership is second only to the quality of teaching in its impact on student achievement. Moreover, teachers frequently cite school leadership as one of the most important factors in determining where they’ll teach.

But only 10 states provide incentives to school principals to work in hard-to-staff schools. And while many states provide induction or mentoring programs for new teachers (22 and 25, respectively), only 14 states require similar programs for new school principals.

Only North Carolina and South Carolina provide a reduced workload for novice teachers during their first year in the classroom.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have data systems that can track the number of “highly qualified” teachers in high- vs. low-poverty schools; the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to calculate the number of classes in core academic subjects taught by highly qualified teachers, but not to track such information for individual teachers.

South Carolina was the leader in the teaching-profession category, earning an A-minus, the highest grade awarded.

But many states have a long way to go, with nine states and the District of Columbia earning grades of D or lower.

—The Editors

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