Mostly the same Old Line

One cheer for Maryland. It posted big gains on its state tests this year. According to the Washington Post, "the share of students statewide who were judged proficient or better rose six percentage points in reading and four points in math, to 82 percent and 76 percent, respectively." Baltimore, for example, saw historic rises--reading scores are up an average of 11 points and math scores up an average of 8 points. State superintendent Nancy Grasmick attributes these gains to a culture of "laserlike analysis" of academic achievement in the public schools of the Old Line State. Maybe. But we'd feel more comfortable if Maryland were also posting gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which it hasn't. In fact, Maryland's NAEP scores haven't risen in a decade. Why the disparity? Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller says that Maryland's state test, "sets the bar defining proficiency very close to the ground" (we indicated as much in our report, The Proficiency Illusion), and who knows for sure if that bar is moving? It is definitely pleasing to see that the biggest test score jumps occurred in districts, like Baltimore, that enroll many low-income and minority students, and pleasing as well to see the gains continuing through the treacherous middle-school years. But we're unconvinced that Maryland deserves all the praise (see here and here) currently being heaped upon it. (There's a political wrinkle, too. Grasmick and Governor Martin O'Malley haven't been getting on very well--and this week he finally succeeded in placing a majority of his appointees on the State Board of Education that employs her. See here.)

"Md. Scores In Reading, Math Show Big Strides," by Daniel de Vise and Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, July 15, 2008

"City schools post big gains," by Sara Neufeld, Baltimore Sun, July 15, 2007