The Smartest States In America Aren't the Ones You'd Expect

The Smartest States In America Aren't the Ones You'd Expect

The news: How smart is your state? Real estate company Movoto analyzed about 500,000 tweets from across the nation to determine whether there was a distinction between the 50 states' grade-level reading abilities.

As it turns out, there is (despite the fact that tweets pretty much universally fell between a fourth- and sixth-grade level). They identified a cluster of states in the highest bracket, including: Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and South Dakota.

It's important to note the methodology here: The study may be somewhat questionable, as tweets are not necessarily a good measure of reading ability given their short length and unconventional grammar and word choice.

Here's a map of the results, demonstrating a clear geographic pattern.


The data: Movoto found "The top eight states that demonstrated their reading best on Twitter were all in the North, split equally among the Northeast and a cluster of states like Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana." According to Movoto, the results line up pretty well with the 2009 State of the States report, which measured educational metrics. A solid half of the eight identified by the Twitter metric were listed in the top 20% of states for eighth-grade reading proficiency.

The five states that ranked the lowest in grade-level reading ability included four of the top six worst-educated states in 2011; Mississippi came in at No. 2, followed by Arkansas at No. 3, Louisiana at No. 5 and Alabama at No. 6.

For Movoto, Louisiana was dead last in tweeting, with a grade-level reading score of 4.25. While Louisiana actually comes up achieving middling education scores on ratings of accountability and policies, it has a solid "F" rating for student performance, so that kind of makes sense.

Movoto went one step further and compared their Twitter-derived reading level scores to measurements of IQ from Virginia Commonwealth University, finding that the broad regional trends held steady. Northern states did well on both measurements, while Southern states did worse.

Reading level based on tweets:


IQ based on VCU data:


From their data set, Massachusetts has the highest IQ rating in the nation, with an average of 104.3, or pretty solidly in the average range for IQ. The state with the lowest IQ is Mississippi, at 94.2. The results of both measurements undeniably seem somewhat correlated.

So does the Twitter metric work? We're skeptical. For one, it's questionable that tweets are a good measure of reading comprehension, given their artificially condensed nature and unconventional grammar. (There's also the fact that some of the funniest or most informative Twitter accounts don't necessarily follow grammatical conventions.) Twitter's demographic also trends young, which means that sample isn't necessarily a perfect representation of the general population.

And finally, both metrics tend to reflect wealthier states as better-performing, reflecting a growing body of evidence that suggests IQ and educational scores are largely impacted by environmental factors. Social circumstances can explain racial and geographic trends in IQ. So states that underperformed on either metric might not necessarily be dumb. They're areas of the country in need of further investment to reduce poverty and increase educational status, and it's not 100% clear that Twitter has much to do with it.

An earlier version of this article did not cite Movoto and did not include quotes around the phrase "The top eight states that demonstrated their reading best on Twitter were all in the North, split equally among the Northeast and a cluster of states like Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana." The story has been updated to fully attribute Movoto's language.