A week after Maryland was named the Number One state in the nation for public education by Education Week magazine, a new advocacy group released its own report highlighting Maryland as one of the worst performing education states when it comes to achievement gaps.

“Success masks a dark underbelly of Maryland student achievement, ” said the report, the State of Maryland Public Education. The group unveiled its report at a press conference with state lawmakers in Annapolis Tuesday afternoon.

Among its findings (based on results of the National Assesssment of Educational Progress):

* Maryland has the second largest disparity in the country between low-income students and their wealthier classmates on the 8th grade math test

* Eighteen percent of African-American eighth graders scored at least proficient on the math exam, compared to 56 percent of white students — a racial achievement gap that has more than doubled since 1990

* Maryland has the fourth largest socio-economic disparity in the country on the corresponding 8th grade English test

“We have a lot of be proud of in Maryland when it comes to educating our kids...But we struggle to serve all Maryland students,” said Curtis Valentine, a former teacher and executive director of the new group MarylandCAN, in a press release. “We are home to deep achievement gaps between the haves and have-nots in our state.

The group is part of the national education reform group 50CAN, which advocates for many of the same kinds of reforms that have been promoted by the Obama administration, including encouraging charter schools, closing failing schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The national group has its roots in an education reform effort in Connecticut, starting in 2005. Now there are also branches in Rhode Island, Minnesota, Illinois, and New York, as well as Maryland.

MarylandCAN laid out three priorities for the 2012 legislative session: to increase funding for early childhood education, to pass a bill that would protect employees from punishment if they miss work to attend a school conference, and to update Maryland’s charter school law, which many charter advocates view as weak.

Start-up funding for MarylandCAN comes from the Walton Family Foundation and the Gates Foundation.