The Combined Opportunity to Learn State Ranking ranks U.S. states based on access of historically disadvantaged students to the states’ best schools where students have the opportunity to achieve academic proficiency or above.

State public education systems in which students achieve at least a moderate level of academic proficiency are defined as those where the National Assessment for Education Progress percentages for 8th grade Reading at the proficient or above levels are 32 percent or above.

The opportunity to learn for students from historically disadvantaged students, the Opportunity to Learn Index (OTLI), compares the percentage of White, non-Latino students who are in schools where nearly all students do well to the percentages of students from historically disadvantaged groups who are in those schools. If, for example, 30 percent of a state’s White, non-Latino students are in the top quarter of the state’s schools and 15 percent of Latino students are in such schools, the Latino OTLI would be 50 percent (15% ÷ 30%). An OTLI of 1.0 means that the percentage of disadvantaged groups enrolled in the top quartile of schools is equal to that for White, non-Latino students.

In order to produce the combined OTL state rankings, the states were sorted twice: by the NAEP percentages and by the OTLI percentages. Each of these was then divided into four groups with approximately equal numbers of states (quartiles), designated 1 (lowest) through 4 (highest)*. The states in the NAEP groupings 3 and 4 were designated as “Moderate Proficiency.” Those states had 32% or more of their students reaching proficiency or above. The states in the OTLI groupings 3 and 4 were those with 54% or higher OTLI scores; these were designated as “High Access.” Each state’s two quartile groups were added together to reach a combined score ranging from 2 to 8. The states were then ranked, from highest combined score numerical value to lowest, within each subgroup (e.g., Moderate Proficiency/Low Access). Where two states’ combined OTL score within a group were the same, the state with the higher proficiency percentage was ranked higher. Where the combined OTL score within a group was the same, and the proficiency percentage was the same, the state with the higher OTLI score was ranked higher. Each state and the District Columbia was then ranked from 1-51according to their positions within the sub-groups in this order:

  1. Moderate proficiency and high access;
  2. Moderate proficiency and low access;
  3. Low proficiency and high access, and
  4. Low proficiency and low access.

Notes on Data

Resource Access: High Quality Early Childhood Education: From National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers Graduate School of Education. Access to Highly Effective Teachers: Ratio of disadvantaged to advantaged student access: “State Consolidated Performance Reports for School Year 2004/5” in Peske, Heather G. and Kati Haycock: Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality. The Education Trust, June 2006. Per Pupil Instructional Expenditure: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. Access to College Preparatory Curriculum: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Ratio of percentage of Native American, Black and Latino enrollment to Asian and White enrollment in Advanced Placement Mathematics.

Earnings and Revenue: Increase in Average Earnings: U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2006. Individuals who are not high school graduates can expect a deficit in lifetime earnings, while the costs to society for each student who does not graduate from high school are substantial, including increases in social service costs and decreases in tax revenue. The difference in lifetime earnings between those with a high school degree and those without is, on average, approximately $200,000. Professor Henry Levin and his associates find that net lifetime increased contributions to society associated with high school graduation can be estimated at $127,000 per student.(1)

Current Probability of College Graduation: Based on state educational attainment, bachelor’s degree or graduate degree, U.S. Census.

Potential Civic Engagement is represented by national voting rates by educational attainment applied to adult educational attainment of each state.(2)

Health: Current Health Status: Ratio of percentages answering “health is excellent or very good” (Indicator 6.1: Health of Mother/Other Caregiver), National Survey of Children’s Health.

Incarceration:  Including only annual crime-related savings for the state.(3)  National Incarceration Rate Differentials, state prison inmates Incarcerated (General Population):(4) No High School Diploma 65 percent (18%); High School Diploma 22 percent (33%) College Degree or more 2 percent (22%).


* NAEP groups: 1= 12% to 26%, 2= 27% to 31%, 3= 32% to 35%, 4= 36% to 43%; OTLI groups: 1= 25% to 37%, 2= 38% to 52%, 3= 53% to 61%, 4= 62% and higher.

(1)           Levin, Henry.  The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America’s Students.  Columbia University, January 2007, p. 1; 6.

(2)           U.S. Census Bureau. Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004; American Community Survey, Educational Attainment Adult Population. 2004 Voting Turnout Rate from United States Election Project:

(3)           Alliance for Excellent Education:  Saving Futures, Saving Dollars:  The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings, Issue Brief, August 2006.

(4)           Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report:  Education and Correctional Populations, January 2003.

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