D.C. schools climb up from bottom of list

Maryland's schools ranked best in the nation for the fifth year in a row, and Virginia held its fourth-place spot, as D.C. schools moved out of the bottom five, according to an independent report released Thursday.

The District placed 45th out of 51 states in Education Week's annual "Quality Counts" report, passing Nevada, Idaho, Alaska and Mississippi to rate 45th out of the 51 systems ranked. South Dakota was last for the second year in a row.

The city has been gradually rising from the bottom of the list, which looks at both traditional public schools and public charter schools. In 2010, D.C. schools were ranked dead last. They climbed to 50th place in 2011 and 49th last year.

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education pointed out that the District had the highest percentage of eligible children enrolled in preschool and kindergarten of any state for the third year in a row.

That was likely among the reasons for the jump in ranking, according to Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate at Education Week's Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which produced the report.

But D.C. schools remains in last place for K-12 achievement, influencing their overall ranking at the bottom of the list.

"While we are working towards improving the District of Columbia's K-12 achievement, we are able to report that we have made academic gains on the Nation's Report Card," said Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley Jones, referring to the National Assessment of Educational Progress standardized test.

The District ranked last of all 51 jurisdictions for its 2011 NAEP scores, with fewer than 20 percent of eighth-graders proficient in either math or reading.

At the other end of the list, school officials in Maryland and Virginia celebrated the results.

"It's good news. It really speaks to the support Maryland schools get -- bipartisan support in the General Assembly," Maryland Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said. "Education is not a political football here."

Maryland performed particularly well in "transitions and alignment," which tracks policy efforts to aid the transition from elementary to high school, and from high school to post-secondary institutions. Maryland prepares students for educational transitions in all but one of the areas tracked, the report shows.

Virginia, meanwhile, received an A in "standards, assessments and accountability," meeting every criteria of both academic standards and school accountability and half of those looked at for how the state tests students' mastery of concepts.

But positive rankings don't put a stop to improvement efforts, Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle emphasized. "What we hope to see looking ahead is perhaps Virginia moving up in the rankings."