Standardized tests are given so often in schools these days that it's possible to get confused by the announcement of yet another set of scores.
Let there be no confusion about the results for Maryland students on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills: Maryland students are average; average is not nearly good enough, and upbeat test scores from previous years should be ignored.
This is the first time Maryland has given the CTBS. Previously it gave the California Achievement Tests year after year; as students and teachers became familiar with them, scores went up. Statewide scores were well above national norms, and even Baltimore City -- always lowest in the state -- seemed to be doing fine.
Now, with public schools confronted with a new test (and one, according to state education officials, which measures higher-level skills), the high test scores vanished. Overall, Maryland students were near the national norm on the CTBS. Black students and Baltimore City students did much worse.
While the results differ from some previous state testing, they confirm a lot of other indications of school achievement in the state. For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in a report released last spring, found that Maryland math achievement was at the national average, that the national average was woefully low and that urban and minority students performed much worse than others.
The latest scores only confirm that the state is correct in trying to raise standards. While trying to raise standards, however, it must pay attention to a related and fundamental problem: Maryland is failing to provide equal educational opportunity for all its children.