With No Child Left Behind officially in the rearview and the new Every Student Succeeds Act set to take effect in the fall, U.S. schools find themselves "at a crossroads,” the overview to Education Week’s Quality Counts 2016 report states. “The path chosen in the coming days may shape the course of education accountability for years to come.”
In the annual study, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, a variety of factors were used to come up with a formula for determining which states are leading the way in education. Two main focuses include academic standards and accountability, and the Education Week Research Center tallied up scores according to the average of three independently-calculated categories: Chance-for-Success, K-12 Achievement, and School Finance. Each state also received an overarching summative grade.
A nation sustaining an average grade
Overall, the study found that the U.S. is doing a mediocre job educating its youth. Most states graded with Education Week’s unique formula earned “C” grades, and the study’s “Chance for Success” index, meant to measure the role of education over time, also averaged "C+." As far as school finance goes, the nation again earned a "C," continuing a six-year trend of little change in the category.
Of course, districts and states may be primed to make changes across the board with a new law governing the educational landscape.
“After a decade and a half of strong federal influence over school accountability, the states are poised to take the helm again and chart their own course,” said Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, Education Week’s parent company. “This promises to be a period of great innovation and opportunity, but also one of considerable uncertainty and divergence, when states may take very different paths forward.”
Massachusetts leads the way
Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Education Week once again ranked Massachusetts as No. 1 in school performance and student achievement. In its “State of the States” report card, the Bay State earned a grade of “B+,” up from last year’s "B."
Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont also scored near the top of the pack with solid "B" grades, while "B-" rankings were awarded to Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
No state earned an "A," though Massachusetts did pull an “A-" in the Chance-for-Success category, which measures what role education plays in individuals' lives from cradle to career. The state is also at the top in K-12 student achievement, with 50% of its fourth and eighth graders tested proficient at math and reading, as compared to just 34.8%, on average, for the nation at large.
Yet Massachusetts is also a relatively wealthy state with more educated parents. A total of 70.2% of students came from families with incomes that are at least 200% of the 2014 poverty level. The U.S. average is 56%. Some 62.7% of Massachusetts children have at least one parent with a post-secondary degree, as opposed to 48.1% nationwide.
In terms of adjusted per-pupil expenditures, Massachusetts spent $13,347 per student, compared to a national average of $11,667. It still, however, ranked No. 12 in that category — the only one it didn't top.
Most states stuck in the middle, with eight performing particularly poorly
On the flip side, the report states that the majority of U.S. states – a total of 32 — earned mediocre grades in the "C" range. But eight states rounded out the bottom with overall "D" and "D+" grades.
Nevada fared worst, with New Mexico and Mississippi following close behind. In all three “D” states, funding issues have abounded. Earning a paltry "D+" were Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
In Nevada, just 28.6% of fourth and eighth graders tested proficient at math and reading, as opposed to the national average of 34.8%. Yet this was reported to be a positive percentage rate improvement of 7.5.
Family income in the state is reported to be under the national average, but the gap is nowhere near as large as that between the wealth of Massachusetts versus the U.S in general. 50% of Nevada children have families with incomes that are at least 200% of the 2014 poverty level, as opposed to 56% nationwide. And as for education and Nevada parents, just 36.3% of kids had at least one parent who had attained a postsecondary degree.
On the upside for states at the bottom: None earned an “F” overall or in the more specific categories.
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