The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a paper by researchers from Stanford and Harvard Universities, shows that Maryland lead the nation in the achievement growth over the period of 1995 through 2009. The authors indicate that over this period, Maryland kids gained an average of two years of schooling, thanks to the improvements in the state's education system.
The report looks at the numbers from 41 states, covering the 15-year period for which the data was available. In addition to Maryland, several southern states showed impressive gains in the level of student achievement. Seven states in the top ten were from the Southern US, including Florida, which came second in the ranking. The others, among them Louisiana, South Carolina Kentucky and Arkansas, joined Delaware New Jersey on the honor roll.
Most of the states with the greatest growth are in the South, where the school accountability movement largely took root, the authors noted.
Languishing on the bottom were Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana. The four states had the lowest average gains of all the states surveyed.
But even while extolling the achievement of the states that made the most progress, the authors cautioned against complacency. No matter how cheery the results, schools in the U.S, on average, still underperform those in other industrialized countries. When looking at the bigger picture, the US still comes only 25th on global achievement growth rankings. It is currently lagging many European countries and the former republics of the USSR when it comes to academic progress. Countries like Latvia, Chile, Brazil, Germany, Poland Slovenia and Lithuania all show higher academic achievement growth over the period studied.
Other parts of the report contained good news for more than just Maryland. Findings show that children between the age of 9 and 13 have shown significant improvement in reading and mathematics. Children of racial and ethnic minority backgrounds have also shown substantial gains, although the achievement gap between them and their white peers still persists.
The findings fuel the efforts of education advocates who are fighting to have the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the signature legislative efforts of the George W. Bush administration, reauthorized this year and expand and strengthen the provisions that apply to the nation's high schools.
The mixed record comes as President Obama and Congress are preparing to overhaul the federal education law, which mandated a massive testing regime. The Obama administration, saying the country's competitive edge depends on boosting student achievement, is pushing to strengthen standards to ensure that more teenagers are ready for college.