Connecticut has always had its own state flag and bird, but now it has a state report card — and a good one, too.

Connecticut was ranked America’s the third “smartest” state in the fifth annual Smartest State Award, published on Monday by Morgan Quitno Press, a Kansas-based private research and publishing company. Vermont and Massachusetts took first and second place, respectively, and Arizona was placed last. Connecticut moved down from second place last year and from first place in 2002-2003.

The company based its rankings on 21 criteria for primary and secondary education, including expenditures on instruction, pupil-teacher ratios, high school graduation and dropout rates and student reading, writing and math proficiency, Morgan Quitno President Scott Morgan said.

“[The award] is really a review of the K-12 education system, rather than of the state’s ‘intelligence,’” Morgan said. “It tries to get at who is delivering education in the best and most efficient way.”

Each of the various education factors, designated either as “positive” or “negative,” was weighted equally in calculating the state’s overall “smart rating,” which was then translated into a rank based on national averages.

In August, the State Department of Education released test scores that showed New Haven students between the ages of eight and 15 consistently perform below state averages. Some New Haven aldermen said these discrepancies lead them to view the Morgan Quitno rankings with suspicion.

Board of Alderman President Carl Goldfield said the rankings belie current problems in the city’s public education system, which he said have socio-economic roots.

“We have a large number of children who come from very economically deprived backgrounds,” he said. “We have a real mountain to climb to bring these children up to speed.”

Like Goldfield, Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 said the methodology of the rankings does not take into account the economic disparities in Connecticut. She said that while Connecticut is arguably one of the “richest” states in the country, there are high concentrations of poverty in major cities. The fact that Connecticut is high in the rankings, Chen said, is probably because the education statistics from more affluent areas of the state offset the statistics from less affluent urban areas.

“The school systems in [urban areas] are short of funding and struggling to meet the state’s [educational] policy standards,” she said.

But New Haven officials and educators said steps are being taken to put New Haven’s education system on par with rest of the state. School systems such as the Achievement First schools in New Haven are making progress, Goldfield said, though a large deficiency remains.

Achievement First is a nonprofit charter school system aimed at bringing a higher standard of education to underprivileged urban students. New Haven children are selected for the schools from a lottery conducted by the New Haven Public Schools Magnet Office.

“We’re all working very hard to improve, [and] parents are becoming more aware,” said Sequella Coleman, the principal of John S. Martinez School. “One of the biggest issues is to make parents aware of what the kids need and to understand what literacy really is. That’s a big issue across the country, but especially in urban districts.”

The Smartest State Award is one of six state rankings that Morgan Quitno publishes annually. Connecticut has placed in the top three for the five years that the ranking has been released.