States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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5. Alabama
> State score: 62.2
> High school graduation rate: 69.4% (10th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,959 (17th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 44.4% (22nd lowest)

Less than one out of five Alabama eighth grade students were proficient in math on national assessments last year, worse than any other state. Reading skills were nearly as bad at the eighth grade level, with just around 25% of students demonstrating proficiency in 2013. Students in Alabama face limited opportunities to succeed as well. Just 69% of students had a parent working full-time and year round, while just 42% had at least one parent with a postsecondary degree — both worse than most other states.

4. West Virginia
> State score: 60.8
> High school graduation rate: 74.7% (23rd worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $14,147 (11th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 35.5% (3rd lowest)

Between 2003 and 2013, West Virginia fourth and eighth grade students became less proficient readers, with national test scores worsening by 4.5 percentage points and 2.2 percentage points, respectively — the worst declines in the nation. While nearly 50% of three- and four-year-olds were enrolled in preschool across the nation in 2012, only 35.5% of West Virginia children were enrolled. Early last year, West Virginia received a waiver releasing schools from No Child Left Behind regulations, allowing the adoption of a new system. One way the state may seek to improve national test scores is to adopt Florida’s education model, which grades schools on student performance.

3. New Mexico
> State score: 60.3
> High school graduation rate: 59.4% (the worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $10,547 (22nd lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 38.4% (6th lowest)

In addition to low achievement grades, New Mexico school systems got a D+ in Education Week’s chance for success category, worse than every state except for Nevada. Less than half of young adults were enrolled in postsecondary institutions or had completed a degree as of 2012. High school graduation rates in New Mexico were also the lowest in the nation in 2010, at less than 60%. Last year, middle school students in New Mexico were among the least proficient in mathematics and reading based on national test scores. Less than one-quarter of eighth grade students were proficient in both subjects in 2013. In the past few years, however, New Mexico had adopted policies that may improve the performance of teachers and students in the coming years.

2. Louisiana
> State score: 59.8
> High school graduation rate: 67.0% (6th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $12,454 (19th highest)
> Preschool enrollment: 52.1% (7th highest)

Louisiana students had among the worst NAEP scores in the nation, with fourth and eighth graders ranking second worst in math proficiency, as well as third worst in reading proficiency. While proficiency scores in the state are on the rise, as of 2012, high school students in Louisiana were among the least likely to record high scores on A.P. tests. Many students in the state lack adequate opportunities to succeed as well, with low family incomes and limited parental employment or education. All these factors help shape the early foundations that play a big role in determining a child’s chances for success in pursuing an education. The state has also faced controversy in the past over a 2008 law that allows schools to teach creationism in science classes.

1. Mississippi
> State score: 57.1
> High school graduation rate: 64.4% (5th worst)
> Per pupil expenditure: $9,542 (13th lowest)
> Preschool enrollment: 53.1% (6th highest)

Mississippi was the only state in the country to receive an F in Education Week’s K-12 achievement category. High school students were the least likely in the country to score a three or above on advanced placement tests, with less than four high grades per 100 students in 2012, compared with more than 25 per 100 students across the nation. Poverty could be one factor affecting achievement. A minority of children have families earning more than double the poverty level, about 40%, the lowest nationally. In addition, the funds available in the state are not evenly distributed. To a greater extent than all but three other states, wealthy school districts in Mississippi had more funding per pupil than poor districts in 2011.

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