There was plenty of news about the need for systemic reform coming out of yesterday’s release of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress data for high school seniors in 13 states. As Contributing Editor Michael Holzman has pointed out, the nation has made little progress in helping all children — especially black and Latino high school seniors — gain the learning they need for success in higher ed and ultimately, the rest of their lives in an increasingly knowledge-based world. In a more sensible world, the latest NAEP data should be more than enough to show opponents of Common Core reading and math standards that their efforts to stymie implementation are intellectually and morally senseless.

wpid10020-wpid-this_is_dropout_nation_logo2But as Dropout Nation has noted over the past few months, states can game NAEP results by excluding significant numbers of children condemned to special education ghettos and English Language Learner programs. After all, these students are the canaries in the proverbial coal mine of education because they, along with poor and minority children, are the ones served worst by American public education, and whose results, in turn, can expose how poorly states are doing in providing high-quality education. By engaging in this form of test-cheating, states (along with traditional districts and other school operators) are lying to families, other taxpayers, and ultimately, our children and young adults.

To expose this misbehavior and shed light on the worst offenders, Dropout Nation has taken a look at exclusion rate data from the reading and math portions of the 12th grade NAEP exam to determine which states excluded more than 15 percent of high school seniors (or fewer than 85 percent) condemned to special ed ghettos as allowed under NAEP guidelines. ELL students weren’t included this time around because only five states identified enough young adults in those programs to determine whether they should participate in NAEP in the first place. Based on the analysis, it is clear that some states are excluding high percentages of their most-vulnerable children, and in the process, being disingenuous about how they are serving all kids.

Michigan topped this year’s dishonor roll in reading in the reading category. The Wolverine State excluded 38 percent of high school seniors in special ed ghettos from NAEP. That’s two out of every five seniors condemned to special ed ghettos excluded from the test. Michigan’s exclusion rate is by far the highest of the 13 states participating in the exam. In fact, Michigan’s level of exclusion was 10 percentage points higher than for Tennessee, whose 28 percent exclusion rate was second-worst this year. By the way: Both states are new participants in the NAEP 12th grade this year.

naep2013_exclusion_reading_highschoolseniorsAltogether, nine of the 13 states participating in NAEP 2013 excluded more than 15 percent of special ed high school seniors from the reading portion of the exam. This includes Florida, which should be the most-ashamed for landing on the list because of its otherwise-stellar reputation for advancing systemic reform. The Sunshine State excluded the third-most percentage of seniors in special ed from the reading portion of the test, keeping 24 percent of its seniors in special ed from test participation. This high level of exclusion may partly explain why the average scale score for the Sunshine State’s seniors in special ed increased by one point (from 250 to 251) between 2009 and 2013 and why the state’s overall scale score increased by three percentage points (from 283 to 286) in that same period.But it gets worse. The Sunshine State is also tied with Tennessee for second-highest level of excluding high school seniors in special ed from the math portion of the NAEP high school test. Twenty-four percent of Florida’s special ed high school seniors were excluded from the exam.

naep2013_exclusion_math_highschoolseniorsMeanwhile Arkansas earned the unenviable status of excluding the most special ed seniors from the math portion of NAEP’s high school exam. Arkansas. The Diamond State excluded 25 percent of high school seniors condemned to special ed ghettos. The test cheating apparently helped Arkansas boost its average scale score for special ed seniors by six points (from 231 to 237) and its overall scale score by five points (from 280 to 285). Overall, eight of the 13 states participating in NAEP’s exam for high school seniors excluded more than 15 percent of special ed high school seniors from the math portion of the test.

Not all states landed on this year’s honor roll. New Jersey stood out this year for excluding the fewest high school seniors trapped in special ed ghettos on both portions of the NAEP high school exam. Just 10 percent of the Garden State’s high school seniors in special ed were kept from taking the reading and math portions of the federal exam. The state also proved that it made tremendous gains in improving achievement for special ed kids without gaming the system; the average reading scale score for the Garden State’s special ed seniors increased by nine points (from 251 to 260), or nearly a full grade level, between 2009 and 2013.

But the latest NAEP data shows once again that far too many states are excluding the performance of their most-vulnerable children from being measured. When that happens, those states are admitting in deed that they are doing poorly by these children. More importantly, the states and the districts they oversee are engaging in another form of test fraud. It’s time for reformers to call out these states for permitting educational fraud and abetting academic abuse.

Photo courtesy of the Lansing State Journal.