GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ron George calls for hearings on Md. reading scores

Maryland Del. Ronald A. George, a Republican candidate for governor, called Tuesday for legislative hearings on why Maryland excluded an unusually large number of English language learners and students with learning disabilities from taking a national reading test.

George (R-Anne Arundel), who sits on a House education subcommittee, accused the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) of being involved in a “cheating scandal” intended to make the state’s performance look better. If a greater number of students had taken the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Maryland’s rankings would have been lower, as The Post reported this week.

“We tell our students cheating is wrong and hold them accountable when they make a mistake,” George said. “What message are we sending them now when corrupt politicians abuse the education system to advance their own political agendas?”

O’Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith said that “some people are so desperate to score political points that they’re willing to question the achievements of our students and educators.”

Smith noted that Education Week magazine had ranked Maryland schools No. 1 for five years in a row and said that the NAEP scores in question were only “a small part” of what went into the ranking.

There was no immediate response Tuesday from Democratic legislative leaders to George’s request. Democrats hold commanding majorities in both the Maryland House and Senate.

Maryland excluded 62 percent of students in two categories — learning-disabled and English learners — from the fourth-grade reading test and 60 percent of those students from the eighth-grade reading test. Those rates were five times the national average and more than double the rate of any other state.

Lillian Lowery, the state’s superintendent of schools, told The Post that she plans to review the state’s exclusion rates and their effect on the state’s test performance.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Douglas F. Gansler also weighed in Tuesday on the controversy over the test scores.

“The parents of Maryland deserve honest and transparent testing – and a more thorough explanation of how they were misled by a system that appears to have put a blind desire to pump up scores ahead of the needs of Maryland families,” Gansler, the state’s attorney general, said in a statement.

The Post reported this week that the National Center on Education Statistics, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, estimated how every state would have performed on the reading test if it had included those with learning disabilities and English language learners. For most states, the change would have resulted in a point or two difference in average scores on the test, which is graded on a point scale from zero to 500.

If Maryland had included its learning-disabled and English learners, the state’s average score would have dropped approximately eight points — from 232.1 to 224.5 — for fourth-grade reading and about five points — from 273.8 to 269 points — for eighth-grade reading. That estimated change would drop Maryland from having the second-highest state score in fourth-grade reading to 11th place; Maryland would fall from sixth place in eighth-grade reading to 12th place.

George is in a competitive Republican primary next year against Harford County Executive David R. Craig; Charles County businessman Charles Lollar; and Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County real estate broker and Cabinet secretary under former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Gansler faces Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery) in next year’s Democratic primary.

Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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