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Quality Counts report rates students' likelihood of success

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Jan 14, 2007 at 12:12 PM

A student born in Virginia will have a much higher chance for success than students in Tennessee.

That's according to the 2007 "Quality Counts" report from Education Weekly.

This is the 11th installment of the Quality Counts report, which is published by Education Weekly with the support of the Pew Center on the States and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

New to this year's report is the "Chance for Success Index" a measure of 13 indicators including family income, parent education, parental employment, linguistic integration, preschool enrollment, kindergarten enrollment, elementary reading, middle school mathematics, high school graduation, post-secondary participation, adult education attainment, annual income, and steady employment.

States lose or gain points based on how they perform, as compared with the national average for each indicator. Scores ranged from 22 to minus 23.

"I think the report is good in the sense that it shows that K through 12 education, or now pre-K through 12 education, doesn't exist in a vacuum - it's not isolated from the rest of the characteristics of a state," said Richard Kitzmiller, Kingsport school superintendent and member of the Tennessee Basic Education Program Review Committee. "Such things as family income and family aspirations to higher education and even the goals that are available within a state in terms of jobs and that sort of thing, all those things go together to make a successful education program.

"The schools can do what they can, but we recognize that we need the help of the state and the state needs our help and how it's all interrelated. The biggest thing is that all of this is more than just what happens during a child's 13 years in school."

According to the report, Virginia ranked No. 1 in the nation in Chance for Success with a state score of 22. The state ranked above the national average in 12 out of 13 success indicators - all except kindergarten enrollment, which they report to be 1 percent below the national average of 75.3 percent.

In contrast, Tennessee ranked 45th in the nation in Chance for Success with a state score of minus 14. Tennessee ranked below the national average in 11 out of 13 indicators - all except linguistic integration and steady employment.

The study's researchers said the index was introduced in order to look at education in a broader context.

"We're very excited about the new Chance for Success Index and the way it helps shed light on the role education plays throughout a person's life," said Christopher Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, during a live chat on EducationWeek.com. "But ... there is a certain kind of thought experiment going on here. We are taking a snapshot of a state at a particular point in time and saying ‘What if a child grew up in the state, given conditions that prevail today? How would we expect he or she to fare later in life?'

"That's not perfect, of course. But it is the best way to tackle those questions given the kinds of data that are available right now."

Achieving success in education and the recognition of the Quality Counts survey has been a long process for Virginia, said Virginia Department of Education Director of Communications Charles Pyle. He said over the past decade, a very focused effort has been mounted throughout the state to help keep schools accountable for student achievement and to develop a "common yardstick" for measuring success.

"The rating is driven by more than a dozen indicators - not all of those indicators that drive this rating have to do with K-12 (education)," Pyle said. "Certainly the quality of our public schools is a factor in this rating, and the rating reflects what's been more than a decade-long reform in Virginia.

"The state Board of Education back in 1995 adopted the Standards of Learning - the rigorous and specific content standards in math, English, history and science. We began an assessment program a couple of years later and began holding schools accountable for the achievement of students. ... What happened over time is that where a child happened to live or what a child's family income happened to be began to have less effect on the quality of instruction that child happened to receive."

While the state enjoys the recognition, Pyle said there are still challenges facing education as a whole.

He cites recruiting quality teachers as one major challenge, since Virginia's colleges and universities do not produce enough teachers to fill available slots each year. Pyle also points to raising graduation rates and bridging achievement gaps as areas of continued work.

"It's always exciting to get this kind of national recognition," Pyle said. "But it doesn't cause us to think there is any less work to do. Although Education Week is saying that most children in Virginia are more likely to succeed than children in other states, we want all children to have opportunities for success."

In addition to the Chance for Success Index, Tennessee also lagged significantly behind in the report's gauge of elementary and secondary performance - a measure based on performance in reading and math at various levels, high school graduation, poverty gap, and Advanced Placement scores.

In this area, Virginia ranked No. 4 in the nation with a state score of 14. Tennessee ranked 40th with a score of minus 5.

In other categories of the report, the discrepancy between Tennessee and Virginia and between Tennessee and the rest of the nation was much smaller. In the category of "Educational Alignment Policies," Tennessee has 10 policies and ranks sixth in the nation. Virginia has nine policies and ranks eighth overall.

Both Tennessee and Virginia have 12 policies regarding standards, assessments and accountability in grades K-12, leaving them tied for No. 4 in the United States.

As a whole, Kitzmiller said despite lower scores in some areas, the study showed that Tennessee does have systems in place to help improve education.

"It does appear that Tennessee is at least putting in place some guidelines and some policies that if we're able to implement them, it may make a difference in the long run," Kitzmiller said. "Some of the scores are just indicators and not something we (schools) can directly do. But I think we can just attack the things we can. (Tennessee can) get a good plan in place for the things they do measure - elementary reading, middle school math, graduation rate. ... If Tennessee is improving in graduation rate, maybe over time family income will go up and that will trigger success in another area. All the things are interrelated with each other. If everybody does what they can do, then over time we can hope to see changes in these measures."

The full Quality Counts report and state highlights are available online at www.edweek.org/qc07.

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