The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma moved up three spots in a national ranking of states’ public education systems, but still falls just below the national average, according to a national report released Wednesday.

Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report ranks Oklahoma 25th overall, with a “C” grade of 76.1, slightly below the national average of 76.2. Oklahoma ranked 28th overall in last year’s report.

“The bottom line is we’re moving forward and this annual study recognizes that,” state Superintendent Sandy Garrett said in a statement. “However, doing better and more than other states isn’t enough. The global race is on to increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready for college and today’s competitive workplace, and we have no intention of slowing down our efforts.”

Overall in 2009, Maryland ranked first in the survey with a score of 84.7, followed by Massachusetts and New York. The lowest scores went to Washington D.C., Nevada, Idaho and Mississippi, which were the only states to receive a grade of “F.”

This year’s report graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia across two years on educational indicators in six general categories: students’ chance for success; transitions and alignment; school finance; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; and the teaching profession.

“The 50-state comparison reveals just how important the educational environment is to an individual’s opportunities,” said Christopher Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. “While eight states saw increases or decreases in their grades from last year, those changes were generally modest.”

Oklahoma ranked 15th in the nation in transitions and alignment, which tracks states on 14 indicators that measure how well the states transition students through the educational pipeline, including early childhood education, college readiness, and the economy and work force.

“In the state of Oklahoma, you actually see those connections being much tighter than they are in many states, particularly from high school into the economy and the work force,” said Amy Hightower, the Quality Counts project director. “These are all indicators that suggest when kids graduate from high school in Oklahoma, they’re ready to assume meaningful positions of employment.”

Hightower said much of the credit for Oklahoma’s success in the area could go to the state’s strong career-technology system.

Oklahoma scored poorly on school finance, earning a “D-plus” and ranking 41st overall in this category, which analyzes school spending patterns and how equitably that funding is distributed among districts.

Oklahoma’s adjusted per-pupil expenditures, which accounts for regional cost differences, was $8,255 compared to a national average of $9,963. Oklahoma also ranked 48th among states, with just 4.3 percent of students in districts with per-pupil expenditures at or above the U.S. average, compared to 42.6 percent of students nationally.

The state made up some ground on its equity measurements, ranking 14th overall with its wealth neutrality score, which measures the relationship between district funding and local property wealth.

Hightower said Oklahoma’s finance scores show the state has an equitable formula for distributing education funding, but simply isn’t putting as much money into education as most other states.

This year’s report also included a comprehensive examination of how state’s are handling English-language learners (ELLs), a group of students that increased from 3.2 million in the 1995-96 school year to 5.1 million in 2005-06.

According to the report, Oklahoma has nearly 33,000 ELLs and only 711 certified teachers, but said Oklahoma is stacking up fairly well against other states. The state ranks 17th nationally, with nearly 16 percent of its ELL students being reclassified out of ELL status.

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