Most States Not Helping Minority Students Achieve: Fordham Report

Published January 1, 2007

A report released in November by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found most states have made minimal or no progress in boosting the proficiency levels of low-income and minority students in reading, math, or science.

The number of state-level D and F grades assigned by the authors “reflects a shameful fact,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the foundation’s vice president for national programs and policy. “In most states, the percentage of these students reaching proficiency in reading, math, and science is in the teens or single digits. And it’s not just our grading scale–the nation as a whole would have received a B for the achievement of white students. The grades are an indication of the pernicious achievement gap.”

Overall State Grades for Student Achievement, Achievement Trends, and Education Reform
State Student Achievement Achievement Trends Education Reform
Alabama F Limited Progress C-
Alaska D+ No Progress D
Arizona D Limited Progress B-
Arkansas D Limited Progress D+
California D Moderate Progress B-
Colorado D+ No Progress C
Connecticut D Limited Progress D
Delaware D Moderate Progress C+
Florida D Moderate Progress C
Georgia D- Limited Progress C+
Hawaii D No Progress D
Idaho D+ No Progress C-
Illinois D- No Progress D+
Indiana D- Limited Progress C
Iowa D- No Progress D-
Kansas D No Progress D
Kentucky D Limited Progress D
Louisiana F Limited Progress C+
Maine N/A D
Maryland D+ Limited Progress C
Massachusetts D Moderate Progress C+
Michigan D- Minimal Progress C+
Minnesota D No Progress C
Mississippi F Limited Progress D+
Missouri D No Progress D+
Montana N/A D-
Nebraska D- No Progress D-
Nevada D- Minimal Progress C-
New Hampshire N/A D-
New Jersey D+ Moderate Progress C-
New Mexico D- Minimal Progress B-
New York D Moderate Progress C+
North Carolina D Limited Progress C
North Dakota N/A D-
Ohio D Limited Progress C+
Oklahoma D No Progress D+
Oregon D Minimal Progress D
Pennsylvania D Limited Progress C-
Rhode Island D- Minimal Progress D
South Carolina D Limited Progress C
South Dakota N/A D
Tennessee D- Limited Progress D+
Texas D Moderate Progress C+
Utah D+ No Progress C
Vermont N/A F
Virginia D+ Limited Progress C-
Washington D Moderate Progress D
West Virginia D Minimal Progress D-
Wisconsin D No Progress D+
Wyoming D+ Limited Progress D-
Source: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2006

Using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Advanced Placement achievement, and graduation rates, the authors graded each state in three categories: achievement for low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students; achievement trends for these students over the past 10-15 years; and the state’s reform efforts.

The Fordham Foundation intends to continue grading states and report the results every two years, Petrilli said.

Poor Grades

Overall, the study found:

  • The average state earned a D in helping low-income and minority students achieve. Eight states earned a D+, 23 earned Ds, 10 received a D-, three earned Fs, and the remainder could not be scored because of insufficient sample size of targeted populations.
  • Over the past 10-15 years, only eight states have made even modest gains among low-income, African-American, or Hispanic students in at least two academic subjects (math, reading, or science).
  • Thirteen states made no statistically significant progress with disadvantaged and minority students, and 22 made minimal or very limited gains. The remainder could not be scored.
  • The national average in state reform efforts was a C-. Three states earned B-; 22 earned C+, C, or C-; 24 barely passed with a D+, D, or D-; and one state, Vermont, flunked altogether.

Education reform scores were calculated by analyzing state efforts in nine areas. These were quality of state academic standards, curricular scope of states’ high school graduation test (if present), the presence of content-rich curricular models such as Core Knowledge or International Baccalaureate curricula, inclusion of low-income and minority students in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) progress calculations, rigor of state standards, whether high school exit and college entrance requirements are aligned, percentage of students enrolled in charter schools, equitable charter school funding, and the availability of vouchers, tax credits/deductions, dual enrollment, and inter-district public school choice.

Some Success

According to the report, the top 10 education reform states experienced at least some progress in raising achievement among disadvantaged and minority students.

“Many of the states that are embracing fundamental education reforms, like setting high academic standards, holding schools accountable, and expanding school choice,” Petrilli said, “are the same ones making significant gains for their poor and minority students. While we can’t prove it scientifically, it appears that tough-minded education reforms work.”

Conversely, some states, like Iowa and Nebraska, scored poorly on all three. No state receiving a D- in school reform experienced more than limited growth in achievement.

Mixed Results

Many states show mixed results. Colorado, for example, earned a D+ for low-income and minority student achievement, a C for reform, and a “no progress” score on achievement trends.

Paul Teske, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver’s Graduate School of Public Affairs, commended the report for an accurate account of Colorado’s strengths and weaknesses.

“There is some complacency in the state,” Teske said. “Since our ‘average’ NAEP and other scores are not bad, we feel like Colorado is doing OK, but I like to remind people that with the second-largest percentage of college-educated adults and per-capita incomes generally in the top 10 states, we should do better than average. We should be excellent overall, and we aren’t.”

Teske criticized the report for not addressing funding, which he believes has an impact on the achievement gap. The report excluded funding, Petrilli said, because “we wanted our report to focus first and foremost on results, and on reforms that have been linked to improvements in student achievement.”

Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado.

For more information …

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report, “How Well Are States Educating Our Neediest Children?: Fordham Report 2006,” is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #20305.