Districts in Md. Miss Special-Ed Testing Targets

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 25, 2006

The school systems in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, like most others in Maryland, failed last year to meet achievement standards for disabled students who receive special services, according to state data released this week.

Seventeen of the state's 24 school systems missed targets for special education test scores in reading or mathematics or in both subjects. Others in the Washington area that fell short were Anne Arundel, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

Four school systems in the state reached academic proficiency targets for every group of students, including the disabled: Howard, Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties.

Every school system except for those four failed to make adequate yearly progress. Most stumbled only on special-ed test scores; a few missed targets for African American students or other groups.

It's not uncommon for school systems to fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Virginia data show that about half of the state's 132 school divisions missed AYP last year.

Maryland's ratings underscored educators' mounting concerns about the assessment of disabled students and the results required.

Ronald A. Peiffer, deputy state superintendent for academic policy, said yesterday that Maryland plans to introduce a test by 2007 that is specially designed for significantly disabled students. In recent years, many of these students have taken standard versions of the Maryland School Assessments and failed in large numbers.

"We're getting the measurement issue fixed," Peiffer said. But he added that the state also has concerns about instruction. "In many instances, there were different expectations for students with disabilities," he said. The latest ratings are "shining a spotlight on that."

Data indicate that some school systems barely missed the state standards. In Montgomery County, which has the state's largest system, 48 percent of special-ed students tested last year achieved proficiency or better in reading. That was seven percentage points below the target.

Under the federal law, all groups of students, including the disabled, must show progress each year toward a goal of near-universal academic proficiency by 2014.

"There's no question that we are committed to doing better in special ed," Montgomery schools spokesman Brian K. Edwards said. "As a system, we aim for very high standards, and we are going to continue to do that."

Edwards said that a significant number of Montgomery's high school students in special education -- including 11 percent in last year's graduating class -- have passed at least one Advanced Placement exam. He said that was evidence of the school system's commitment to special-ed achievement.

John White, a Prince George's school system spokesman, said senior officials were unavailable for comment on the ratings.

Prince George's faces heightened scrutiny under the state's accountability rules because its test scores have repeatedly missed standards. Last year, the 133,000-student system missed targets for disabled, Hispanic, English-learning and economically disadvantaged students. With an average student attendance rate of 92.1 percent, Prince George's also missed the state attendance standard of 93.1 percent.

Maryland has rated Prince George's in need of improvement for two years in a row. Failure to improve this year would trigger a state demand for corrective action.

The Baltimore system is the only one in Maryland now rated in need of corrective action. Reviews are mixed on whether actions taken there have sufficed. The No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, gives more weight to fixing schools than fixing school systems.

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