2 3 6 7 1 17 27 33 12 24 16 9 18 26 32 25 15 10 30 34 4 19 11 35 5 29 44 28 37 20 13 8 21 46 23 31 36 47 45 14 39 41 22 38 40 42 49 48 43 50
Elementary school busses

(Reinhold Foeger/Getty Images)

Pre-K - 12 Rankings

Measuring how well states are preparing students for college

Half the weighting in evaluating education goes to pre-K through 12th grade. Overall, the generation progressing through school now is the most educated ever. In the 2016 Census, the source of this data, almost 90 percent of Americans had earned a high school diploma or GED. Wide differences exist in the education levels in the states, however. Rates of less than a ninth-grade education range from 11 percent in California to 3 percent in Utah. Iowa leads the nation in the percentage of students graduating from high school, slightly more than 90 percent, which is one of the key metrics involved in the Best States education ranking. The early start that children gain from pre-K education also is a factor. With nearly a quarter of children enrolled in preschool nationally, the Best States ranking shows New Jersey with the greatest, at almost one-third.

Best States for Pre-K - 12

Pre-K - 12 Rank State College Readiness High School Graduation Rate NAEP Math Scores NAEP Reading Scores Pre-K Quality Preschool Enrollment
#1 Massachusetts MA 2 13 1 2 24 4
#2 New Hampshire NH 3 7 2 1 - 17
#3 New Jersey NJ 6 2 4 5 14 2
#4 Vermont VT 7 11 5 3 30 1
#5 Connecticut CT 1 14 20 4 36 3
#6 Maine ME 17 12 18 14 6 7
#7 Minnesota MN 27 32 3 6 6 9
#8 Iowa IA 33 1 14 16 29 8
#9 Rhode Island RI 12 29 29 29 1 6
#10 Montana MT 24 19 9 7 - 32
#11 Pennsylvania PA 16 26 24 12 15 11
#12 Virginia VA 9 20 8 25 30 24
#13 Maryland MD 18 16 25 18 16 14
#14 Illinois IL 26 22 28 26 16 5
#15 Nebraska NE 32 5 13 10 30 25
#16 Wisconsin WI 25 6 6 8 39 36
#17 Indiana IN 15 15 10 15 41 26
#18 Delaware DE 10 22 34 36 16 12
#19 Missouri MO 30 10 31 24 16 15
#20 Utah UT 34 26 15 9 - 35
#21 Michigan MI 4 37 38 31 6 20
#22 South Dakota SD 19 28 19 22 - 34
#23 North Carolina NC 11 22 30 39 1 41
#24 Kentucky KY 35 8 39 19 6 37
#25 Idaho ID 5 40 23 13 - 45
#26 Washington WA 29 42 12 21 6 27
#27 Kansas KS 44 20 21 27 23 18
#28 North Dakota ND 28 17 7 23 - 50
#29 Tennessee TN 37 9 37 30 6 42
#30 Colorado CO 20 46 16 17 30 31
#31 New York NY 13 39 33 33 24 19
#32 Hawaii HI 8 33 35 47 16 10
#33 Texas TX 21 4 22 38 40 38
#34 Wyoming WY 46 38 11 11 - 40
#35 Georgia GA 23 41 36 37 16 13
#36 Ohio OH 31 35 17 28 37 33
#37 Oregon OR 36 48 27 20 24 21
#38 Arkansas AR 47 25 44 45 6 22
#39 Alabama AL 45 3 50 46 1 39
#40 Florida FL 14 43 42 32 41 16
#41 West Virginia WV 39 18 46 42 1 48
#42 Oklahoma OK 41 30 45 35 30 29
#43 South Carolina SC 22 36 40 40 30 43
#44 California CA 38 31 41 44 38 28
#45 Louisiana LA 40 44 49 48 6 23
#46 Alaska AK 42 47 32 41 24 49
#47 Mississippi MS 49 34 48 50 1 30
#48 Arizona AZ 48 45 26 34 41 46
#49 Nevada NV 43 49 43 43 24 47
#50 New Mexico NM 50 50 47 49 16 44

College Readiness

The ACT, a college-readiness test that colleges consider in admitting students, measures student achievement in English, math, reading and science. More than 2 million graduates of the nation's high school classes of 2017 took the test.

Slightly fewer students – around 1.7 million – took the SAT in 2017. The SAT assesses students in math and evidence-based reading and writing. Connecticut ranked No. 1 for college readiness, with 62 percent of high school graduates passing the SAT or the ACT, followed by fellow New England states Massachusetts and New Hampshire. New Mexico ranked last with only 22 percent of students meeting the assessments' benchmarks.

High School Graduation Rate

In order to have a full picture of any state's success in graduating students from public high school, a longitudinal look at a graduating class, starting with students who enter the ninth grade and counting how many graduate from the 12th grade, is necessary. According to the U.S. Department of Education's report for the 2014-2015 school year, Iowa – the No. 1 ranked state overall – led the nation in high school graduation, with 90.8 percent of the state's high-schoolers obtaining diplomas. New Jersey ranked second, with 89.7 percent graduating. Alabama ranked third, with 89.3 percent. In general, students in the Far West, Southeast and Rocky Mountains had the lowest rates while students in New England and the Plains had the highest rates.

NAEP Math Scores

Sampled students in the eighth grade across the country are tested for math and reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which the U.S. Department of Education bills as "The Nation's Report Card." The scores on the math test range from 0 to 500. Looking at the states whose eighth-graders scored highest on math in 2015, Massachusetts, the No. 1-ranked state in education and No. 8 among Best States overall, had the highest average score: 297. New Hampshire ranked second, with 294. NAEP scores show differences for boys and girls. While the difference between them on math is now zero on a national average, some states still have differences. In Vermont, girls lagged by 3 points, while in Massachusetts, the No. 1 state in NAEP math scores, male students lagged 4 points behind female students.

NAEP Reading Scores

"The Nation's Report Card" also measures reading proficiency among eighth-graders, with scores ranging from 0 to 500. Looking at the states whose eighth-graders scored highest in reading in 2015, New Hampshire, No. 3 in education overall, ranked highest, with average reading scores of 275. The Granite State was followed closely by its southern neighbor, Massachusetts, which is No. 1 overall in education, with average reading scores of 275. In reading, female students scored an average of 9 points higher than males throughout the U.S. In Maryland, girls outscored boys by 16 points, and in Alaska, North Carolina and Missouri, where girls scored an average of 14 points higher than the boys.

Pre-K Quality

The standards for measuring the quality of any state's pre-K programs are extensive. They include measures of the numbers of teachers with bachelor's degrees of specialized training in pre-K education, class sizes of 20 students or smaller and teacher-student ratios of 1 to 10 or better, supplemental services such as health and vision care and meals provided. The states were graded on a range of 1 to 10 on all these measures by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Notably, Washington is the only state that ranks in the top 10 for education and for this metric. Five states – North Carolina, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama – tied for best pre-K quality.

Preschool Enrollment

Early childhood education provides a firm grounding for children entering kindergarten. This metric accounts for the percentage of children under 5 in any state enrolled in a nursery school or preschool program in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Vermont led the nation in preschool enrollment, with 33 percent of kids under 5 signed up. New Jersey and Connecticut followed closely, with 32 and 31 percent enrolled, respectively. Nationwide, 1 in 4 young children is enrolled.