U.S. Not Improving Chances for Student Success; Nation Gets C-Plus While State Grades Largely Unchanged

U.S. Not Improving Chances for Student Success; Nation Gets C-Plus While State Grades Largely Unchanged

The nation and most states have failed to improve the opportunities for students to succeed throughout their lives, according to Education Week's annual education report card. The nation received a C-plus on the report's annual Chance-for-Success Index, while one state – Massachusetts – earned an A. Four states received a D-plus.

Launched two years ago by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, the 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. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Hampshire received the highest scores for the second consecutive year. Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico received a D-plus, the same score they received last year.

“The 50-state comparison reveals just how important the educational environment is to an individual's opportunities,” said Christopher B. Swanson, the director of the EPE Research Center. “While eight states saw increases or decreases in their grades from last year, those changes were generally modest,” he added.

The report, supported by the Pew Center on the States, also grades the nation and the states in two other categories that are monitored on an ongoing basis: school finance and policies that aim to better align the different stages of the educational pipeline. The nation held steady in school finance, earning a C-plus this year, while the C for alignment policies marked a slight improvement over last year's grade.

Special Focus on English-Language Learners

The report, Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population—How English-Language Learners Are Putting Schools to the Test, also includes the most comprehensive examination to date of English-language learners (ELLs), highlighting efforts by state and local leaders to address the needs of this diverse and rapidly growing group, which increased from 3.2 million in the 1995-96 school year to 5.1 million in 2005-06, or a jump of 57 percent in that period. Twenty states have seen their ELL enrollments at least double in this time.

While the report finds that nationally one-quarter of ELLs failed to make progress toward English-language proficiency, results vary widely between states. Connecticut reported that only 1.4 percent of its English-learners failed to make progress, while Maine counted 44.9 percent of its ELLs in this category.

“A lot of progress has been made in recent years to understand who ELLs are and how they perform in school,” Swanson added. “But it is clear that many of these students are struggling. At the same time, states face the daunting challenge of finding the combination of teacher preparation, instructional support, and assessments that works best for these students.”

ELLs Behind Peers on National and State Tests

The academic-achievement gap between ELLs and public school students as a whole is significant, both on state-developed assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a test administered through the states by the U.S. Department of Education. Large gaps are found both in states with historically large numbers of English-learners and in parts of the country where the ELL population has exploded only in recent years.

In mathematics, 9.6 percent of 4th and 8th grade ELLs scored “proficient” or better on the 2007 NAEP, compared with 34.8 percent of all students, a gap of 25.2 percentage points. The gap was 24.8 points in reading, with only 5.6 percent of 4th and 8th grade ELLs scoring “proficient” or better compared with a national average of 30.4 percent.

These disparities were similar on state-developed assessments in 2006-07, where, on average, ELLs were separated from their peers by 23.6 percentage points in math and 32.3 points in reading. These gaps were even more pronounced in particular states, where the difference could exceed 40 percentage points.

“ELLs often trail their English-speaking peers when they begin school and may fall further behind as they get older,” said Virginia B. Edwards, the editor and publisher of Education Week. “One of the biggest challenges facing our schools is finding ways to bring students to fluency in English while continuing to develop and tap into their academic skills in other subject areas.”

Special Web-Only Features Available at Edweek.org

  • The full Quality Counts 2009 report and a multimedia gallery of English-language learners from around the country: www.edweek.org/go/qc09.
  • State Highlights Reports for the 50 states and District of Columbia featuring detailed, state-specific data on ELLs and our comprehensive grading of the states across six categories of educational performance and policy: www.edweek.org/go/qc09/shr.
  • Perspectives on a Population: English-Language Learners in American Schools, a special 50-state report with extensive data on the characteristics of the ELL population, its performance, and state policies and programs: www.edweek.org/go/qc09.