State officials affirm fourth-graders' gains on national reading test

Scores were not inflated, mimic progress on Md.'s assessments, they note

April 15, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Maryland education officials said yesterday they are confident real gains are being made in state pupils' reading skills, and that their scores on the latest national reading assessment test were not inflated by excluding more special education students from taking it.

"Our reading gains are modest, but we believe that they are real," said Ronald A. Peiffer, assistant superintendent for the Maryland Department of Education, noting the state's reading tests show similar gains.

The average score for Maryland fourth-graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was 215 on a 500-point scale in 1998, a 2 percent increase from their average test score of 210 in 1994 and the same as the national average.

Rules changed

However, new federal rules led states to exclude more pupils -- those with disabilities who often don't do well on the test -- from taking it. That has called into question the gains in reading test scores reported for Maryland and other states.

The NAEP is given to a sample of pupils in each state to measure academic progress. A sample of about 2,200 fourth-graders took the test in Maryland last year, out of nearly 65,000 pupils, Peiffer said. State-by-state results were recently released.

In Maryland's case, the number of pupils that were excluded from being selected for the test sample grew by 2 percentage points -- from 7 percent of fourth-graders in 1994 to 9 percent in 1998 -- Peiffer said.

Peiffer said each school identifies special education pupils who can be excluded from taking the test, based on federal criteria. Those with "seriously impaired cognitive functioning" and certain other disabilities are removed from the testing pool.

Since special education pupils account for only about 200 of the 2,200 fourth-graders being tested, it takes the addition of only a few more pupils to boost the percentage of those excluded from the testing pool, Peiffer said.

Exclusions vary

Pupils in special education classes in Maryland range from the profoundly retarded to those who have mild learning disabilities or speech, hearing or other problems. Not all are excluded from the testing pool, Peiffer said.

The state includes a higher percentage of special education pupils in its statewide reading tests than were allowed in the NAEP sampling because Maryland uses different standards than the U.S. Department of Education to decide who is capable of taking the test, Peiffer said.

"For the most part in Maryland we include them in testing if the individal educational program for a student indicates the child is essentially working towards a Maryland high school diploma," he said.

Scores on the state reading tests also suggest reading skills are improving among Maryland pupils, Peiffer said. These gains have occurred even though the state is excluding fewer special education students from taking the state test than it has in the past, he said.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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