LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ public education system is ranked 41st in the nation in Education Week’s 20th annual Quality Counts report, down from 36th a year ago.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ public education system is ranked 41st in the nation in Education Week’s 20th annual Quality Counts report, down from 36th a year ago.


The report, released Thursday but provided in advance to reporters, gives Arkansas an overall grade of C-minus, the same grade as last year.


A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education did not respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment.


The nation as a whole received a C. No state received an A, and only one state, Massachusetts, received a B-plus. Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont each received a B.


At the bottom of the rankings are Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico with Ds.


The grades were assigned based on Education Week’s tracking of indicators in three categories. Arkansas was ranked 41st and received a D in K-12 student achievement; it was ranked 26th and received a C in school finance; and it was ranked 45th and received a C-minus in students’ chance for success.


The national average grades were C-minus in K-12 student achievement, C in school finance and C-minus in students’ chance for success.


In last year’s report, Arkansas was ranked 37th and received a D-plus in K-12 student achievement; was ranked 28th and received a C in school finance; and was ranked 46th and received a C-minus in students’ chance for success.


Each year’s report also examines an issue unique to that report. The Quality Counts 2016 report averages scores on standardized tests to give each state an overall proficiency rate.


Arkansas’ proficiency rate, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, scores for reading and math in grades 4 and 8 in 2015, is 28.8 percent, which places the state 43rd in the nation. The nation as a whole has a 34.8 percent proficiency rate.


Between 2003 and 2015, the era of the federal No Child Left Behind law, Arkansas’ proficiency rate increased by 3.9 percentage points, the 36th highest increase in the nation. The national average was an increase of 5.2 percent.


"For many, the very term ‘accountability’ has become synonymous with testing, particularly the type of mandatory standardized assessments at the center of federally driven school accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act," Education Week said in a news release.


"But now that the NCLB era has ended and the successor Every Student Succeeds Act has become law, America’s schools stand at a crossroads. The path chosen in the coming days may shape the course of education accountability for years to come."


Education Week is a newspaper covering education that is published by Editorial Projects in Education, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization. More information is available at www.edweek.org.


UPDATE: State Education Commissioner Johnny Key provided the following statement on Thursday:


"The Quality Counts 2016 ranking indicates that we have work to do, and I am optimistic that future rankings will show Arkansas trending upward. We are developing stronger standards in English, math, and science, and we have adopted a strong assessment tool in ACT Aspire. Through Governor Hutchinson’s computer science initiative, Arkansas has shown that it can lead the nation in creating 21st Century learning opportunities for students. The work that is being done by school districts and higher education partners to enhance career education in this state will also have a powerful impact on measures of student achievement.


"The success of these efforts, as well as our rank in future reports, will be determined by how well we do the basic things in education. We must teach kids to read. We must teach kids math. We must prepare and support teachers to do the work in the classroom. We must create a culture of learning in Arkansas. As an Arkansan, if you aren’t satisfied with being 41st, 20th, or even second, call a local school or the department to learn how you can get engaged in helping students succeed."