Maryland education reform efforts are paying big dividends especially when it comes to low-income students. On the latest edition of the Nation's Report Card the state was ranked first for the improvement their low-income students showed in mathematics and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams.
Between 2003 and 2011, Maryland students who qualify for reduced or free federal lunch program have improved their NAEP scores by a total of 55 points. The state was closely followed by New Jersey, which showed an improvement of 51.7 points over the same period. Massachusetts rounded out the top three with improvement of 47.1 points.
But while some states improved, other states took a step back. One was West Virginia, where low-income students actually performed 8.4 points worse in 2011 than they did in 2003.
The test measures academic progress as a student moves from one grade to the next, explained Education Sector Interim CEO John Chubb, one of the report's authors. Each year, a student is expected to gain on average 10 points in each subject.
As a result, score differences between Iowa — where students across income brackets lost 0.4 points — and Maryland show that, "kids in Maryland are achieving in fourth grade what kids in Iowa don't achieve until fifth grade," said Chubb.
The report includes not only the raw data showing improvement, but also shows how well a state performed based on expectations set in 2003. Washington D.C., for example, ended up in 4th place for its improvement rate, yet because it already started with low scores in 2003, it only outperformed expectations by 5 points.
On the other hand, in 2003 Maryland's low-income students were already performing relatively well, so the substantial gains made over the 8-year period were even more impressive when considered in context.
The improvements in Maryland were likely driven by the state's lesser-achieving school systems, Chubb said, pointing to districts like Baltimore and Prince George's County, in contrast to high-performing Montgomery County.
Education Sector's report relied on NAEP scores as a way of determining the success of states' alternatives to aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind law, a policy that aims, among other things, to close the achievement gap. The District and 37 states — including Maryland and Virginia — have received waivers opting out of aspects of the policy, and eight others have applications pending.