State Government

Is Maryland’s #1 Education Ranking Yet Another Example of Fudging the Numbers?

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Maryland officials are fond of touting the state’s public schools as the best in the country, but the ranking may be artificially inflated. The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland excludes special education students at a rate far higher than the national average, leading to to higher scores on national tests used to determine education rankings.

“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.

Maryland’s state coordinator, Clayton Best, says this not an attempt to distort the results.

Best said that Maryland is “absolutely not” gaming the test. He said there is no benefit for a school to hold back testing a student because individual student and school scores on NAEP are never reported to the public.

It may be true that the schools do not directly benefit from this practice, but politicians certainly benefit from being able to drop the state’s number one ranking into campaign sound bites—especially politicians with national aspirations like Governor O’Malley. This raises questions about where the decisions to exclude special education students are made and whether the governor’s office is involved. The probability seems high for a governor whose “achievements” in office depend so much on distorting facts and cherry picking statistics.

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