Stateline Story

Poor States Score Better on New Report

  • December 15, 2005
  • By Kavan Peterson
Every two years, the "Nation's Report Card" ranks states based on their students' achievement on national standardized tests, prompting much praise for states with the highest scores, such as Massachusetts and Minnesota, and embarrassment for states such as Mississippi and New Mexico, which always score near the bottom.   
But a new analysis of state scores on the tests—officially called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - unveils a different pecking order when the level of student poverty is considered.
  
By weighting states' 2005 NAEP reading and math scores based on poverty levels, the analysis conducted by Standard & Poor's (S&P) School Evaluation Services found that 11 states -- Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas—outperformed the rest of the country in either the fourth- or eighth-grade. Of those states, only Kansas, Massachusetts and Minnesota consistently made the top 10 based on their raw NAEP scores.
  
Six states—Alabama, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island—performed worse than the national average, and the remaining 33 states scored about the same based on their student poverty levels.
  
Massachusetts students outscored the rest of the nation based on both raw NAEP scores and the poverty-weighted analysis. 
  
The S&P report, Leveling the Playing Field 2005, is the first to analyze NAEP data based on student poverty levels, which research has found to be one of the greatest factors determining student performance. Its findings turn the traditional NAEP ranking on its head and draw attention to states that perform well despite more challenging student populations.  
  
For example, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi—which have the highest percentage of poor students in the nation and scored dead last in fourth-grade reading in 2005—actually did as well as top-performing states such as New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey, according to the report.

"There has been a lot of commentary recently about states' absolute performance on the nation's report card. However, little has been said about the more constructive way for policymakers and the public to use the results, which is to make state-by-state comparisons while considering each state's level of student poverty," said Thomas Sheridan, vice president of S&P's education statistics clearinghouse, SchoolMatters.com .

State NAEP scores have been reported for fourth- and eighth- graders in reading and math every two years since 1992.