Score One for Maryland

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BEHIND THE good news of the significant improvement in test scores for Maryland students reported this week was even more good news. Minority and poor students made dramatic gains, the achievement gap narrowed, and no student's improvement came at the expense of another's. One could say that Maryland is close to the promise of "leaving no child behind" -- and that's a credit not only to state and local education officials, but also to the federal law named after that promise.

Since 2003 -- a year after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law -- both elementary and middle-school students have posted big gains on state reading and math assessments. Data released by the state education department showed composite reading and math proficiency for the elementary grades rising some 24 percent. Composite middle-school proficiency increased 18.6 percent, while middle-school math proficiency rose nearly 29 percent. Particularly impressive was the performance of minority students: 7 in 10 African American students now are proficient in elementary math, compared with just 4 in 10 in 2003; 7 in 10 Hispanic middle-school students are proficient in reading, compared to just 44.6 percent in 2003. English learners, disadvantaged students and special education students all showed improvement. Prince George's County and Baltimore City, traditionally the state's poorest performers, had stunning gains.

Maryland had been on the road to reform before No Child Left Behind was enacted. State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick was an early proponent of standards-based education. State officials allocated extra money, and local officials -- such as superintendents John E. Deasy in Prince George's and Jerry D. Weast in Montgomery -- laid out visions for improvement and then did the hard work. Still, there can be no denying that No Child Left Behind provided a framework of accountability that prevented schools from hiding the failings of some students behind the success of others.

It's also no accident, as a recent report by the Center on Education Policy found, that test scores are up in most states since NCLB was enacted, with many states narrowing the achievement gap between black and white children. So it's frustrating that the law's reauthorization has languished in Congress. Even more maddening is that the future of the landmark law is likely to depend on the outcome of this fall's political contests rather than on results from the nation's children.

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