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One thing must be kept in mind when in analyzing the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: That states can sometimes game their results by excluding significant numbers of children condemned to special education ghettos at participating schools and districts, as well as not testing English Language Learner students who would do poorly on the exams. Because, on average, 12 percent of school-aged children are labeled special ed cases — and are likely to suffer from the consequences of shoddy teaching and curricula — the more that are excluded from NAEP testing, the easier it is for states to essentially make the performance of traditional districts and other school operators appear better than they are. Same is true for ELL students (including Latino and Asian children from immigrant households as well as American Indian and Alaska Native students on reservations). So states and districts have plenty of incentive to exclude as many special ed and ELL students as possible.

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2This penchant among states and districts for concealing how poorly they are serving children — what can only be called academic fraud — is one reason why the No Child Left Behind Act requires all but five percent of children in schools are tested on state-level tests used for measuring performance. Since 2011, NAEP has also required districts and states to test 95 percent of their entire student populations overall and 85 percent of children in special ed ghettos and those in ELL programs. Many states have behaved admirably, excluding fewer than 15 percent of special ed and ELL students from NAEP testing. This group includes both the most-aggressive reform states (Florida, Louisiana, and Indiana, for example), as well as those who have lagged behind in advancing systemic reform (Virginia, West Virginia, and South Carolina). But other states have continued to exclude high levels of its worst-served kids from the exams, and thus, appearing to do better in improving student achievement than they really are.

To help shed light on the worst offenders, Dropout Nation has taken a look at exclusion rate data from the 2013 NAEP. This time around, the focus is on the states that exclude 20 percent or more of kids stuck in special education and ELL ghettos from NAEP’s reading exam. Why the focus on NAEP reading? For one, reading is the key for kids to understand the world around them, including mastering math and science. If kids can’t read, then they can’t do much else. The second reason lies with the fact that the exclusion rates for NAEP reading among these bad actors is so high that it is ridiculous. No state excluded 20 percent or more of kids labeled special ed and ELL from NAEP’s math exams.

The results are stunning. At the top of the worst offender list is Maryland, which is home Dropout Nation. The Old Line State excluded 66 percent of fourth-graders with disabilities from NAEP Reading; to put it in perspective, this is four times the national average of 16 percent and double the 37 percent rate for the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, the second-worst offender in this category. Maryland was also the worst in excluding ELL students, keeping 61 percent of ELL fourth-graders from taking NAEP’s reading exam; this is double the 33 percent exclusion rate for Delaware, the second-worst offender in that category, and seven times the national average of eight percent.

Maryland’s gamesmanship extended to NAEP’s eighth-grade reading. Sixty percent of Old Line State eighth-graders in special ed were excluded from NAEP, four times the national average and double the 32 percent exclusion rate for the Department of Defense school system, the second-worst offender in the category. Sixty-one percent of Maryland’s eighth-grade ELL students were also excluded from NAEP testing, also double the 34 percent exclusion rate for Delaware (again, the second-worst offender in the category) and six times the 10 percent national average exclusion rate.

Given high levels of exclusions from NAEP reading alone (equivalent to 13 percent of all fourth-graders and nine percent of eighth-graders), it’s little wonder why Maryland appears at first glance to being a sort of Lake Wobegone in education — and tops Education Week‘s annual Quality Counts reports — in spite of the presence of two of the nation’s worst-performing systems, Baltimore and Prince George’s County, which are also among the largest districts in the state. One can even speculate that Maryland’s NAEP numbers would decline precipitously if it simply reduced its exclusion rates to the fraudulent-but-not-so-shameless levels set by Department of Defense and Delaware in each category. For traditionalists, this data tosses cold water on their efforts to tout Maryland as their example of success (even as the state itself does embrace some aspects of reform, including overhauling teacher evaluations and implementing Common Core standards).

But as it has been noted, Maryland isn’t the only state that excluded more than a fifth of its worst-served children from NAEP testing.

When it comes to excluding fourth-grade special ed kids, Maryland and Department of Defense are followed by Georgia (with an exclusion rate of 32 percent), Texas (28 percent), North Dakota (27 percent), Delaware (26 percent), Michigan (25 percent), California (23 percent), Montana (22 percent), and Utah (21 percent). All in all, nine states, along with Department of Defense, excluded a fifth or more of kids condemned to special ed ghettos (and other kids with disabilities) from NAEP testing, thus artificially bolstering their performance on the reading portion of the exams.

Fourth Grade NAEP Reading 2013 Special Ed Exclusion Rate

 

STATE

EXCLUSION RATE (%)

Maryland

66

Department of Defense

37

Georgia

32

Texas

28

North Dakota

27

Delaware

26

Michigan

25

California

23

Montana

22

Utah

21

Source: U.S. Department of Education

In the category of ELL fourth-graders, Maryland and Delaware are followed by Kentucky, Department of Defense, and North Dakota (each with 24 percent exclusion rates) and Georgia (23 percent). Altogether, five states, along with Department of Defense, excluded a fifth or more of ELL students from ELL testing, and in the process, making their systems look better than they likely are.

Fourth Grade NAEP Reading 2013 ELL Exclusion Rate

 

STATE

EXCLUSION RATE (%)

Maryland

66

Delaware

33

Department of Defense

24

Kentucky

24

North Dakota

24

Source: U.S. Department of Education

When it comes to eighth-grade special ed and other students with disabilities, Maryland and Department of Defense are followed by Georgia (with an exclusion rate of 31 percent), North Dakota (29 percent exclusion rate), Kentucky and Tennessee (each with exclusion rates of 27 percent), Texas (25 percent), Michigan and Utah (each with 24 percent), and California and South Dakota (each excluding 22 percent of special ed and other students with disabilities from NAEP reading). Ten states, along with the Department of Defense, excluded at least a fifth of special ed kids from NAEP reading tests.

Eighth Grade NAEP Reading 2013 Special Ed Exclusion Rate

STATE

EXCLUSION RATE (%)

Maryland

60

Department of Defense

32

Georgia

31

North Dakota

29

Kentucky

27

Tennessee

27

Texas

25

Michigan

24

Utah

24

California

22

South Dakota

22

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Tennessee, in particular, stands out because reform outfits such as Democrats for Education Reform have given the state’s education leaders kudos for strong test score improvements on NAEP this year. Given the high exclusion rate in this category (along with excluding 18 percent of fourth-grade special ed students and ELL kids from NAEP reading, and 14 percent of eighth-grade special ed kids from NAEP’s math exam), reformers should reconsider whether to continue handing out that praise. If anything, reformers should be calling out the state’s education czar, Kevin Huffman, for allowing such high exclusion levels to happen in the first place.

As for exclusion rates for eighth-grade ELL kids? Maryland and Delaware are followed by Department of Defense (24 percent), South Dakota (22 percent) and Nebraska (20 percent). Four states, along with Department of Defense, excluded a fifth or more of ELL eighth-graders from NAEP’s reading test.

Eighth Grade NAEP Reading 2013 ELL Exclusion Rate

STATE

EXCLUSION RATE (%)

Maryland

61

Delaware

34

Department of Defense

24

South Dakota

22

Nebraska

20

Source: U.S. Department of Education

All of these states deserve scorn for engaging in the kind of virtual academic fraud that would not be tolerated from a district if it did this on a statewide standardized test. The Obama Administration should also be taken to task for allowing one of the two school systems operated by the federal government to also behave in an academically fraudulent manner. All that reform talk is cheap and useless if the federal government doesn’t even walk the walk on its own policymaking. But the NAEP exclusion numbers once again remind reformers that it will take eternal vigilance to keep states and school operators honest in order to transform American public education.

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