Special Report

States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

The Best Schools

11. Virginia
> State score: 74.2 (tied for 10th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 77.5% (22nd best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,573 (14th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.5% (tied for 18th highest)

Virginia’s school systems received an A in the standards, assessments and accountability category, much better than other states with top overall scores, and among the best grades in the country. Virginia’s policies and standards it applies to its teaching staff also received a high grade, a B−, among the best 10 in the nation. As of 2012, Virginia was one of only 11 states to reward teachers for high student achievement with a pay-for-performance program. That year, there were 45 high Advanced Placement exam scores for every 100 students in the 11th and 12th grades, more than any other state except for Maryland.

10. Colorado
> State score: 74.2 (tied for 10th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 75.6% (25th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,160 (9th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.1% (23rd highest)

Nearly 48% of adults in Colorado had completed a postsecondary degree as of 2012, the second-highest rate of adult educational attainment in the country and a good indicator of the success of the state’s schools. Despite scoring relatively high, Colorado’s school system still has room to improve. The state was among a minority of states that did not determine grade-specific standards in English and mathematics in 2012. Further, Education Week assessed the state’s efforts to improve teaching very poorly, with a D.

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9. Washington
> State score: 74.9
> High school graduation rate: 72.1% (15th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,262 (11th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 41.1% (13th lowest)

Of the six major categories covered by Education Week, Washington received the highest grade in the chance for success category, which measures family background and employment opportunities, receiving a B−. Educational attainment and the proportion of annual incomes exceeding the national median among adults in the state, for example, were above the national average, at 43.4% and 55.5%, respectively. Over the past decade, the proportion of Washington middle school students performing at an advanced level in mathematics increased more than the vast majority of states. Between 2003 and 2013, the proportion of eighth graders scoring at the highest levels on national assessments improved by 5.7 percentage points.

8. Pennsylvania
> State score: 75.6
> High school graduation rate: 83.0% (6th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $13,741 (12th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 48.5% (tied for 18th highest)

More than 40% of Pennsylvania middle schoolers were proficient in mathematics and reading at the eighth grade level in 2013, both among the best in the country. Over the 10-year period between 2003 and 2013, Pennsylvania did a better job than any other state of closing the reading gap — the disparity between the reading ability of affluent and that of less-affluent children. The gap is widening across the nation, but in Pennsylvania, it has narrowed considerably.

ALSO READ: States Spending the Most on Education

7. Florida
> State score: 75.8
> High school graduation rate: 72.9% (17th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,752 (15th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 50.8% (tied for 11th highest)

Florida was one of just a few states to receive an A in the transitions and alignment category, which measures how schools manage students’ transitions between the school systems and secondary education or employment. To smooth transitions between school, postsecondary institutions and the workforce, Florida uses high school assessments to aid postsecondary decisions, one of a few states to do so. Florida school systems received among the highest marks in the country in equity and spending indicators, indicating that funds are well distributed across school districts in the state.

6. Minnesota
> State score: 76.7
> High school graduation rate: 80.4% (10th best)
> Per pupil expenditure: $11,043 (24th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 46.9% (24th highest)

Nearly 60% of fourth graders in Minnesota were proficient in math, based on 2013 national assessment scores, better than every other state in the country. That year, 47.2% of eighth graders were also proficient in math, third highest in the nation. In December of last year, a study by the Minnesota Department of Education found a vast improvement in the chances of Minnesota children starting kindergarten to succeed on third grade achievement tests compared to roughly a decade ago. Minnesota scored well in other indicators for success, including educational attainment among parents. More than 60% of children had at least one parent with a postsecondary degree in 2012, the third-highest proportion in the country.

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