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These are the states that really have the best schools in the US

When you adjust based on the students they're serving, Texas and Florida schools start to look impressive.
When you adjust based on the students they're serving, Texas and Florida schools start to look impressive.
(Shutterstock)

Texas and Florida, not usually renowned for quality education, turn out to be educational powerhouses once you adjust for student demographics.

A new report from the Urban Institute looked at how students from each state compare with similar students in other states on fourth- and eighth-grade tests in reading and math. The researcher, senior fellow Matt Chingos, adjusted states' scores based on a variety of factors, including race, ethnicity, the share of students still learning English, and the share of students living in poverty.

Plenty of factors other than a state's school system affect how students perform on standardized tests. Students in Massachusetts test better than students in Mississippi, but Mississippi also has more students of color and more students living in poverty.

Using Chingos's adjusted scores, Massachusetts still looks very good. Texas and Florida look much better. And Utah, which is about average based on test scores alone, slides nearly to the bottom when adjusted for demographics:

(Urban Institute)

Good news: American schools really are getting better

Test scores have climbed only slightly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the standardized test known as the NAEP or the "nation's report card," since 2003. But that's actually very good news.

There are more nonwhite students and more poor students in public schools than there were 12 years ago. If everything else had remained constant, test scores should have fallen based on the demographic changes.

Instead, nearly every state improved more than would have been expected, adjusted for demographics. And once you make those adjustments, some states have taken dramatic steps:

(Urban Institute)

These two charts are very bad news for West Virginia, whose poor scores can't be explained by student demographics alone, and which aren't rising. On the other hand, Hawaii made a dramatic leap between 2003 and 2013 that should at least in part offset concerns about its still-low adjusted scores.

And Massachusetts continues to be a standout, with the best scores with or without the demographic adjustment, and one of the biggest leaps in adjusted scores between 2003 and 2013 — even though in 2003 it already had some of the best schools in the country.