Washington, DC -
01/14/2010 - The nation and many states face a continuing struggle to deliver a high-quality education to all students, according to Education Week’s annual education report card. The nation received a C when graded across the six distinct areas of policy and performance tracked by Quality Counts, the most comprehensive ongoing assessment of the state of American education. Maryland topped the nation with a B-plus overall, followed closely by Massachusetts and New York, both of which earned a B. The majority of states received grades of C or lower.
States posted their highest scores for polices related to standards, assessments, and accountability. The nation as a whole earned a B in this area, with 20 states receiving grades of A or A-minus. The top-ranking states—Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and West Virginia—had near-perfect showings on the policies examined, many of which have been tracked since the report’s inaugural edition in 1997.
“Over the years, states have made tremendous progress in adopting policies that establish standards for academic content, align assessments to those standards, and hold schools accountable for results,” said Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “In fact, many policies that were considered highly innovative when we first launched Quality Counts 13 years ago are now commonplace.”
The report also finds that the nation has made little progress in improving the opportunities for students to succeed throughout their lives. The nation received a C-plus on the report’s annual Chance-for-Success Index, the same grade as last year. Only one state—Massachusetts—earned an A, while Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey posted grades of A-minus. Three states received a D-plus. The EPE Research Center’s Chance-for-Success Index provides a detailed look at the role that education plays as a person moves from childhood, through formal K-12 education, and into college and the workforce.
Quality Counts 2010, supported by the Pew Center on the States, also updates national and state grades in two other categories that are monitored on an ongoing basis: school finance and policies that aim to strengthen the teaching profession. The national grade in school finance dropped to a C from a C-plus last year, while the results for the teaching profession held steady with the nation earning a C.
Special Focus on Common Standards
Quality Counts 2010: Fresh Course, Swift Current—Momentum and Challenges in the New Surge Toward Common Standards also investigates the latest iteration of the national debate over common academic standards. An on-again, off-again fixture of the education policy landscape since at least the 1980s, interest in common academic standards and assessments has again swept the nation during the past year, fueled in large part by the Common Core State Standards Initiative led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. The report reviews the origins of the standards movement and presents new reporting and analysis that highlight the challenges that current initiatives pose for administrators, educators, and state and local officials.
An original 50-state survey conducted by the EPE Research Center finds evidence of solid foundations that may facilitate a more unified approach toward defining common academic standards. When crafting and revising their academic standards, a large majority of states already look beyond their own borders for guidance. The work of national subject-matter organizations has influenced English/language arts or mathematics standards in more than 40 states, while just over half of those have examined the frameworks of other states to inform their own standards.
However, far fewer states (16) have engaged in the type of international comparisons or benchmarking that has received considerable attention in recent policy discussions. In addition, a number of states have reported challenges—ranging from the political to the practical—that they believe may complicate efforts to adopt common-core standards. The leading concerns, each raised by at least 15 states, include: securing a high level of input and support from stakeholders; possible disruptions to the state’s own policy efforts; and misalignments between state expectations and the common standards.
“A convergence of political and economic factors has generated a great deal of momentum behind the push for common standards right now,” Swanson added. “But the success of this movement will ultimately hinge on follow-through on key issues like aligning curriculum with the common standards, supporting high-quality instruction, and measuring student performance against the new expectations.”
Report Examines Progress, Opportunities in Mathematics
To complement Quality Counts 2010’s exploration of reinvigorated national interest in common standards and assessments, the EPE Research Center created a new Math Progress Index, which comprises a dozen indicators that examine: levels of mathematics performance, trajectories of change over time, poverty-based disparities, and student access to opportunities that promote greater learning and successful school careers.
Results reveal that even the national leaders—Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire—fall shy of 80 points on the index’s 100-point scale. The highest- and lowest-performing states (Massachusetts and Louisiana, respectively) are separated by a 27-point gap, which would translate to a difference of roughly two to three full letter grades on a metric more akin to Quality Counts’ grading scale.
Some hopeful signs also emerge from a closer examination of the Math Progress Index. For example, since 2003, nearly every state has seen improvements in math achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress at both the 4th and 8th grade levels. Although economically disadvantaged students almost always have less access to experienced math teachers, states where poor students have more-equal access to such teachers post significantly smaller math-achievement gaps.