Annie Brandes, 10, left, laughs with her classmates as they all get to know one another in a circle in Mrs. Taylor McHenry’s class Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, at Cheyenne's Miller Elementary. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Wyoming has moved up another spot to sixth place in an annual ranking of education quality across the country.

The state moved up from its seventh place ranking in 2018 and 2017 on Education Week’s “Quality Counts 2019” report, released late last week by the magazine that covers educational issues.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in a news release, “It is always positive news to see Wyoming at the top of national rankings and also improving from year to year.”

This year, Wyoming earned an overall score of 82.3 out of 100 points, which is a grade of B-minus. Last year’s ranking showed Wyoming with a score of 81.8, which was also a B-minus. The nation as a whole earned a grade of C this year.

According to Education Week, the purpose of the report is to help people determine where each state ranks for educational opportunities and performance.

The states that ranked ahead of Wyoming overall were New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and New Hampshire.

In addition to an overall score, each state and the District of Columbia receives a ranking based on three areas. Those categories include School Finance, K-12 Achievement and Chance for Success.

Wyoming ranked first in the nation for School Finance, just as it did last year. Wyoming earned an overall score of 92.8 and a letter grade of A, which was the only solid A in the nation. New York received an A-minus and a score of 90.2. Neighboring Idaho had the lowest score at 60.6, which is a D-minus.

Other neighboring states fell somewhere in between in School Finance. Nebraska earned a C, and Montana earned a C-minus. Colorado and South Dakota both earned a D-plus, while Utah received a D.

New Jersey, which received the overall top ranking in the nation with a B-plus, was ranked third for School Finance with an 89.3, also a B-plus.

School Finance analysis looks at school finances from two angles. First, it considers how much is spent per student and what share of total taxable resources are spent on education. Second is equity, which is how student spending compares between property-poor districts and their wealthier counterparts.

When comparing Wyoming to other states with the first set of financial indicators, the Cowboy State earned an A, while the nation as a whole received a D. This ranking put Wyoming in first again. According to the report, Wyoming spends $18,090 per student.

“Vermont has the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation at $20,540, followed by New York at $19,697, as adjusted for variations in regional costs,” according to the report. “At the other end of the scale, Utah spends the least at $7,635 per student. The national average stands at $12,756.”

In equity, Wyoming received an A-minus, which puts it seventh in the national rankings. The nation as a whole earned a B-plus.

Kari Eakins, chief policy officer with the Wyoming Department of Education, said Wyoming is the only state to rank in the top 10 in both amount spent per student and equity.

“We put a large priority on funding schools – not only with the per student amount, but also with how that money is distributed,” Eakins said.

In her news release, Balow discussed Wyoming’s history of funding education.

“Adequate funding for education has been a bedrock of Wyoming education since the state’s founding,” Balow said. “Our funding model has allowed us to make a real difference in the lives of all students. For instance, the Nation’s Report Card places Wyoming above national averages consistently from year to year. This is no coincidence. Funding alone does not equate to a great education. Funding plus great schools in supportive communities makes all the difference.”

A second category, K-12 Achievement, is based on 18 distinct measures of reading and math performance, high school graduation and success on Advanced Placement tests. Data for this category is based on 2017 results.

A score of 74.8 and a C makes this the lowest-scoring category for Wyoming, but it still outpaces the national average of 73. This is also an improvement over last year’s score of 73.1. The state’s score puts it in 12th place in the nation in this category, a jump from 18th place last year.

“We are always hoping to continue improving,” Eakins said. “It’s nice to see a little uptick, but there are areas where we want to keep going. While we like to see achievement gaps closing, we’d actually really like to see them closed.”

Eakins noted the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act ensures schools are maintaining a focus on students who may be struggling.

“With the Every Student Succeeds Act and the ability to add more flexible measures to accountability at the federal level, we incorporated what we were already doing at the state level, which was including an equity measure,” Eakins said. “That looks specifically at the scores of the bottom 25%-performing students. It really makes sure schools focus on students who may be struggling the most and works to improve their performance.”

Wyoming wrestled most with the high Advanced Placement test scores of the K-12 achievement metrics. The state fared better than only two other states in this category – Louisiana and Mississippi.

Top scorers in the achievement category were Massachusetts with a 88.4, which is a B-plus, and New Jersey with 85.1, which is a B. Louisiana was lowest at 60.7 – a D-minus.

A final category for the Quality Counts ranking is Chance for Success. These rankings are divided into early foundations, school years and adult outcomes. They look at factors like proficiency in reading and math for students in grades K-12, graduation rates, level of parents’ education and rate of adult employment.

Wyoming received a Chance for Success rating of 79.4, which is a C-plus, compared to the U.S. score of 79. Wyoming comes in at 28th in this category. This is a drop from 21st place last year.

Top-ranking states in this category were Massachusetts with a score of 91.7, or A-minus, and New Hampshire with 90.1, also an A-minus. Bottom states in this category were New Mexico at 67.3 and Nevada with 68.2, both a D-plus score.

There are 13 indicators this category covers. Wyoming received its highest score of the 13 in linguistic integration, with 93.3% of students with parents who are fluent in English. Wyoming also scores well in high school graduation rates, with 80% of students graduating. Parental employment was ranked at 78.2%.

On the lower end of the Chance for Success indicators in Wyoming is percentage of eighth-grade students who scored as proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 38.4 earned a score of proficient. This is better than the national average of 33.4.

Percentage of adults who have received a post-secondary degree stands at 39.1% in Wyoming, and the state’s third-lowest indicator was 41.4% of fourth-grade students scored as proficient in reading.

Elizabeth Sampson is a freelance journalist living in Cheyenne who has more than 12 years of experience. She can be reached by email at esampson78@gmail.com.

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