NH best in nation for K-12, according to U.S. News’ “Best States” rankings

New Hampshire is a great place to live. Number two overall, actually, according to US News and World Report’s “Best States” rankings. But where New Hampshire shines is in its education system–the Granite State is the best in the nation, according to measures of college readiness, math and reading scores, and high school graduation rates. 

What makes an education system great? In New Hampshire, it’s the dedication to local control. That means that the people who have the most influence over our schools are the teachers, parents, and community members themselves:

New Hampshire has a “long tradition of quality education and quality educators,” says Paul Leather, deputy commissioner at the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Part of the reason New Hampshire excels in K-12 education is due to its extremely involved teachers and local school districts. The state’s motto, “live free or die,” rings true for its education system. The state provides support for its schools, but school districts have ultimate control, and teachers are extremely influential.

New Hampshire has “done a really great job at building the capacity of their teachers…and being able to hear the needs that teachers have to assess students differently,” says Joey Hunziker, Interim Director of Partnerships at the Innovation Lab Network, a group of states working to transform the public education system.

It’s true: the Granite State is the first in the nation to develop an alternative program to standardized testing that’s designed, administered, and graded by local teachers: the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program:

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education approved New Hampshire to pilot an initiative called Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE), designed to support competency-based learning. Under PACE, schools administer performance-based assessments, created locally and among neighboring districts, to track students’ progress and ensure they have a full understanding of each subject.

The state has seen higher graduation rates since these initiatives have been employed, Leather says.

In fact, it was the state’s teachers who introduced the need for a program like PACE, and they are developing the criteria for the assessments.

PACE has become a national model for assessments. Check out the video here, or catch up on the latest news here.


The Pre-K-12 rankings were based on college readiness (measured by ACT scores), NAEP scores, and high school graduation rates. Not all of New Hampshire’s students take the ACT, but the percentage that take them is increasing.

NAEP Scores


The NAEP, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” is a standardized test administered by the U.S. Department of Education every few years in math, reading, science, geography, art, and other subjects. New Hampshire ranked number 1 in NAEP reading scores and number 2 in NAEP math scores, only behind Massachusetts.

The average NAEP math score for New Hampshire was 235, just a single point behind Massachusetts’ average of 236. The nationwide average was 224.

New Hampshire’s average NAEP reading score was 267, compared to a nationwide average of 257.

College Readiness

New Hampshire ranks #2 in college readiness based on meeting ACT benchmarks, just behind Massachusetts. Of course, not all students are required to take the test–juniors do take the SAT as part of the statewide assessment, but the ACT is optional. In 2016, 23% of high school seniors took the test, compared to 28% of Massachusetts seniors and 64% of seniors nationwide.

Massachusetts topped the list for college readiness, but New Hampshire’s scores are very similar–and in English, even better. New Hampshire’s average score in 2016 was 26.4, compared to 24.8 in Massachusetts and 20.8 nationwide.

High School Graduation Rate

New Hampshire ranked a bit lower on the high school graduation ranking–#6 in the nation, behind Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Texas.

The graduation rate has been increasing over the past several years, and nearly 90% of New Hampshire high school students graduate within 4 years.

The graduation rate for students with disabilities is slightly lower, though–at around 72%. Nationally, about 63% of students with disabilities graduate high school within 4 years. A report by Disability Scoop notes that “9 out of 10 students with disabilities are believed to be capable of graduating high school if given the right supports.”

Take a look at the full U.S. News and World Report rankings here.