Special Report

State of the States: Overview (Quality Counts 2006)

This year’s report takes stock of where states have made progress and where improvements are needed.
January 03, 2006 | Corrected: May 27, 2020 12 min read
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Corrected: The 2006 print edition of Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report, published Jan. 5, included incorrect information on national education spending levels in 1993-94 and changes in these figures over time in the “State of the States” section on page 76. The statement on per-pupil spending should read: “Adjusted for inflation, it was $6,633 in 1993-94 and rose to $8,041 in 2002-03, a 21 percent increase.” It has been corrected in the online edition.

The print edition of Quality Counts also included incorrect information in the “Resources: Spending” table. Data in the column titled “Percent of U.S. average” representing each state’s adjusted per-pupil spending as a percent of the U.S. average were calculated incorrectly. Correct information is available online.

Data Tables Download

Summary of GradesPDFExcel
Student AchievementPDFExcel
Standards and AccountabilityPDFExcel
Efforts to Improve Teacher QualityPDFExcel
School ClimatePDFExcel
Resources: EquityPDFExcel
Resources: SpendingPDFExcel
Grade-by-Grade Testing Policies (Web only)PDFExcel

Quality Counts 2006, like the nine previous editions of the report, tracks key education information and grades states on their policies related to student achievement, standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and resources.

After collecting a decade of information on standards-based education policies, the report this year also takes stock of where states have made progress and where improvements are needed.

See Also

For a detailed analysis of how the states’ policy efforts relate to student-achievement gains, see the related story, A Decade of Effort

Over the past few years, states have put in place a number of policies to help them meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The influence of the 4-year-old law has been dramatic in certain areas and has accelerated state efforts related to assessments, accountability, and teacher quality. But a longer-term view of the data suggests that states were beginning to put in place the pieces of standards-based education well before the federal law became a measuring stick for state education policy efforts.

Most of the more than 100 state-level indicators included in Quality Counts come from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center’s annual state policy survey.

See Also

For information on the survey methodology, see the related story, Editorial Projects in Education Research Center Annual State Policy Survey

Other indicators were gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, and from such organizations as the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for Education Reform, both based in Washington. All data sources are listed on Page 101. A detailed description of how the EPE Research Center calculated the states’ grades is on Page 100.

Student Achievement

National Assessment of Educational Progress results for 2005 were released in October and show that reading achievement has remained essentially flat over the past two years, while gains in mathematics have slowed. Quality Counts 2006 compares results on NAEP between 2003 and 2005 against results on state tests during the same period. The results of state tests are not comparable across states because each state administers its own exams and sets its own performance standards. But they do show each state’s progress toward ensuring that all students reach the “proficient” level on state reading and math tests by 2013-14 as required by the No Child Left Behind law.

Comparing students’ performance on NAEP, often called “the nation’s report card,” with results on state exams highlights the range of rigor in state tests and performance standards. While only about 21 percent of 4th graders in Alabama scored at or above “proficient” on NAEP math tests in 2005, for example, 73 percent reached that bar on the state’s math exam. The percentages scoring at or above “basic” were similarly at odds, 66 percent reached that level on NAEP, compared with 97 percent on the state math test.

Wide variations between NAEP and state assessment results also are evident when examining growth from 2003 to 2005. The percentage of 8th graders scoring at or above proficient on the NAEP reading test improved in only nine states and the District of Columbia, while the percent of students scoring at or above proficient on state tests improved in 31 of the 47 states with available data. Except for 4th grade math, more states have posted gains at the proficient level on their own tests than on NAEP.

Also, while the percent of students scoring at or above proficient on NAEP increased by single digits between 2003 and 2005, growth on state tests has tended to be higher. In Maryland, for example, the share of 4th graders scoring at proficient or above on the state reading test increased by 23 percentage points between 2003 and 2005. But on NAEP, Maryland showed no difference in the percent of students scoring at the proficient mark or better.

Standards and Accountability

Quality Counts 2006 also compares graduation-rate data from the 1992-93 and 2001-02 school years. Within that time frame, graduation rates increased by 5 points or more in five states and the District of Columbia and decreased by the same amount in 10 states. New Jersey posted the highest graduation rate in 2001-02, at 84 percent, according to the EPE Research Center’s analysis.

Policy efforts over the past decade have focused largely on improving states’ academic-content standards and the assessments that measure whether students are learning that content. As of the 1997 inaugural edition of Quality Counts, only 31 states had adopted content standards in the four core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. Twelve had no academic standards. Now, only Iowa is lacking state-level academic-content standards in any core subject.

The quality of states’ standards is improving as well. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have English and math standards rated by the AFT as clear and specific at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, up from 28 states and the District in 2004 and just 15 states and the District in 1998.

Increasingly, states are aligning their tests with their content standards. Forty-seven states and the District now use tests aligned with state standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in English and math, up from 46 states last year and 29 states during the 1999-2000 school year. The number of states using tests aligned with their science standards at each grade span also has increased.

But only 10 states use assessments aligned with their history standards in all three grade spans, elementary, middle, and high school. That’s the same number as in 2000 and a drop from last year. The lack of growth for history compared with other subjects for which the No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test students (English, math, and science) suggests that the federal law has had an impact on state assessment plans.

States also have ratcheted up their accountability efforts in recent years, though certain areas have seen more movement than others.

All states now provide school report cards, which commonly include student test scores broken down by race, family income, limited English proficiency, and disability. According to the National Center on Educational Accountability, there also has been a significant jump in the number of states with statewide student-identification systems. Such systems attach unique codes to each student for tracking purposes so that individual test-score data can be linked to specific schools or teachers. Forty-one states have such a system in place for the 2005-06 school year, up from 25 states in 2004-05.

Thirty-seven states offer assistance to all of their low-performing schools, up from 36 states last year—Missouri dropped its assistance program last year, while Idaho and Maine added programs. But the number of states imposing sanctions on low-performing schools—regardless of whether they receive federal Title I money for disadvantaged students—or offering rewards to high-performing schools has been flat over time. Twenty-eight states now impose consequences on low-performing schools in some way, just one more state than the 27 reported by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States in 1996.

Only 16 states provide rewards to high-performing or improving schools, down from 17 states in 1996.

Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality

It’s harder to track information about states’ teacher-quality efforts over time because the Quality Counts indicators in this area have changed markedly since the first report. In 1997, the teacher-quality indicators were less rooted in policy and dealt more with organizational issues, such as whether states had established independent professional- standards boards. Since then, the Quality Counts researchers have collected more data focused on the education and assessment of prospective teachers, professional development, and accountability for teacher quality.

It’s clear that the No Child Left Behind Act’s “highly qualified teacher” provisions have made their mark on state efforts to improve teacher quality, particularly in the area of licensing requirements.

For the 2005-06 school year, 42 states and the District of Columbia require high school teachers to pass subject-matter tests to receive their initial licenses, six more states than last year and up from 29 states in 2000. At least one more state, North Dakota, plans to institute subject-knowledge tests in the 2006-07 school year.

The number of states requiring prospective high school teachers to have majors in the subjects they will teach also is rising. Thirty-three states now require subject-area majors for high school teachers to receive their initial licenses, up from 30 states last year and 28 in 2004.

Requirements for middle school teachers are murkier. States are paying more attention to ensuring that middle school teachers demonstrate subject-area knowledge before they enter the classroom, but a significant number of states have multiple certificates for teaching at the middle school level. The requirements teachers must meet to obtain the different certificates often vary in rigor. Twenty-six states require all middle school teachers to pass a subject-area test to receive an initial license, up from 24 last year.

There has been less state activity on some of the professional-development indicators that Quality Counts tracked over time. Thirty-five states paid for teacher professional development in the 1998-99 school year, compared with 39 states now. Quality Counts 1997 reported that 14 states required and financed mentoring for their beginning teachers. In 2005-06, the total is 15 states.

Quality Counts 2006 also tracks how states are holding their teacher education programs accountable for the preparation of their graduates.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia identify their low-performing teacher education programs. But state systems for identifying struggling teacher-preparation programs are most often based on traditional program-approval-and review processes, which usually assess programs every five or seven years. Fewer states have comprehensive systems that annually review institutions according to a variety of performance measures.

While the vast majority of states report that they identify low-performing institutions, only 11 states identified any low-performing or at-risk institutions for 2004-05, and only 20 such institutions were identified nationwide.

School Climate

Relatively few states survey teachers, parents, or students about school conditions. However, the number has grown in recent years. In 2003, only eight states had such surveys; 18 have them in 2005-06.

On another aspect of school climate, the number of states with class-size-reduction programs has remained steady in recent years. In 2002, 31 states had such programs. For this school year, that number has inched up to 33 states. Twenty-five states require school report cards to include information on class size or pupil-teacher ratios, an increase from 21 states in 2003.

Quality Counts continues to collect information on state efforts to prevent school bullying. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws or regulations that include provisions related to school bullying or harassment, up from 30 states and the District last year. A smaller number of states, 15, pay for bullying-prevention programs. Also related to school safety, the No Child Left Behind Act requires each state to define and identify “persistently dangerous” schools. During the 2005-06 school year, only 29 schools in six states were labeled that way, and the number of schools identified ranged from two in Georgia and Texas to 10 in Pennsylvania.

Over the past decade or so, the number of states with laws permitting the creation of charter schools has grown steadily, from 25 to 40 plus the District of Columbia. States vary considerably in when they passed those laws. Minnesota enacted the first statewide charter school law in 1991. Maryland did so in 2003. Not surprisingly, as more states have allowed charter schools—which are publicly financed but operate free from many of the rules governing regular public schools—the number of such schools has climbed nationwide. In 1999, there were 1,680 charter schools. By 2005, there were 3,625. While 129 new charter schools opened in 1995-96, this school year 424 new charter schools opened. Today, more than 1 million students are enrolled in charter schools nationwide.


A few changes appear in the school finance section for Quality Counts 2006. In the past, the EPE Research Center’s district-level-resource analysis excluded districts with enrollments under 200 students because spending in those districts can be atypical compared with average district expenditures. However, some states lost a significant number of districts from the analysis because of that step.

To have the report’s results more precisely reflect each state’s financial situation, Quality Counts included the small districts in this year’s analysis. As a result, some states received significantly different grades compared with last year.

The grading on the equitable distribution of school resources includes the same three outcome measures of resource equity that Quality Counts 2005 used: the wealth-neutrality score, the McLoone Index, and the coefficient of variation. Those measures look at the relationship between district wealth and education revenue, and the disparities in funding across districts within a state.

Out of the 49 states included in the equity analysis, 16 improved their total equity scores. New Mexico and Indiana made the greatest improvement, with a 5-point increase, followed by Alabama, California, Georgia, and Massachusetts, each with a 2-point increase. Thirty-three states received lower scores, and Alaska and Rhode Island decreased their equity scores by more than 10 points each.

Average education spending per student for the 2002-03 school year (the most recent year for which data are available) was $8,041 and increased by 1.6 percent from the previous year. The District of Columbia spent $11,031 per student adjusted for regional cost differences, the highest figure in the nation. New Jersey followed, with $10,908 per student. The bottom four states in per-pupil spending are clustered in the Western region of the country. Utah ranked last: It spent $5,067 per student.

Average education spending per student has grown steadily over the past 10 years. Adjusted for inflation, it was $6,633 in 1993-94 and rose to $8,041 in 2002-03, a 21 percent increase. In 2002-03, 27 states spent over 20 percent more money per student compared with spending for the 1993-94 school year. Arkansas, New Mexico, and New Hampshire increased per-pupil spending by more than 50 percent during that period.


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