Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Numbers Game

It's no secret that Red Maryland, probably more than most, has been critical of Martin O'Malley's boasting about Maryland's # 1 ranked schools five-years running as reported by Education Week. Well, now we know why:

Maryland's scores on a national reading test may have been inflated because the state's schools excluded a higher percentage of special-education students than any other state, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. 
The National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, estimates that Maryland's scores were 7 points higher for fourth-grade reading and 5 points higher for eighth-grade reading because of the exclusion. 
Maryland has always earned high scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and its steady increases in test scores over the years has helped earn it the ranking of No. 1 in the nation by Education Week, an often-quoted measure. 
"When exclusion rates are higher, average scores tend to be higher than if more children were tested," said Larry Feinberg, assistant director for reporting and analysis for the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent body that sets policy for NAEP.
Now people who have been paying attention to the games that O'Malley has played on education are painfully aware about how flawed the Education Week ranking and how even state school officials here in Maryland are aware of the flaws within the system. I mean why else would we have the rush to adopt the Common Core standards, the drop in SAT scores, persistently woeful rankings in performance for students who live in poverty despite ever increasing school spending and the Thornton Commission plan, and a high number students who need remedial instruction in college.
The major problem for O'Malley in all of this has been the fact that he has constantly touted Maryland's top-ranked schools as a source of pride for his administration. As he launches his 2016 campaign for President, he is going to continue to rely on these education rankings as a source of "success" during his Administration, the lack of achievement of Maryland's students and his inability to address the poverty gap in school notwithstanding. Another complicating factor is the fact that the Education Week rankings often make per-pupil spending a key factor in their school rankings, notwithstanding the fact that research at Harvard shows that per-pupil spending and educational achievement are not bound together or the fact that increases in state spending have been spent either inefficiently and on non-classroom spending. Meanwhile, independent analyses by various groups and organizations, including Students First led by Michelle Rhee,  have given Maryland far less generous grades on student performance.
So the O'Malley Administration does what it does best: cook the books and do things in a manner that lacks transparency, something the O'Malley Education Department is pretty familiar with
A cynic would say that pointing out the catastrophic flaws with Governor O'Malley's education claims is a political problem, and that excluding the scores of special-education students does not have an impact on the public school system as a whole. But Martin O'Malley doesn't get to decide what kids we care about and what kids we don't care about when it comes to ranking our schools. If O'Malley wants to own Maryland's public schools "#1 ranking" as his own he has to take the whole enchilada. But there's a even bigger reason why we must include all of our students in the testing process; Maryland provides the right to a "thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools" in our State Constitution. If we aren't testing all of the students, how can we be certain that the state is meeting its Constitutional duties.

I wish that Martin O'Malley had put as much effort into educating state students and closing the poverty gaps in our public school as he has crafting the image he hopes will launch him to the White House in 2016.....

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