No. 1 by what standard?

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland officials are understandably proud of Education Week's recent ranking of the state's K-12 public education system as the best in the country. But before this ranking becomes the rationale for state officials to curtail education spending or the State Department of Education to act with less urgency, a closer examination of the evidence is warranted. Is Maryland really No. 1?

To begin with, there is reason to doubt the objectivity of much of the data underlying the Education Week rankings because they rely on states' self-reporting.

It would seem reasonable that Maryland, with the highest household income in the country, would post the highest achievement. But the National Assessment of Education Progress, created to measure and compare the education performance of all states, tells a different story.

While Maryland's performance on the NAEP has improved in recent years, its rankings on the 2007 NAEP reading and math fall solidly in the middle tier of states. Hardly No. 1.

There are also large discrepancies between Maryland students' scores on the national NAEP test and those on the Maryland State Assessment tests.

On fourth-grade reading, for example, 86 percent of Maryland students score proficient or above on the state test. Yet only one-third of Maryland fourth-graders meet the proficiency level according to NAEP. How rigorous are Maryland's tests?

If one looks at the percentage of our high school graduates who go to college, Maryland ranks 14th.

And finally, on the SAT, Maryland's scores have declined in both math and reading over the last three years as compared with the national average.

Given these data, it seems reasonable to conclude that Maryland is a long way from No. 1. If, on examination of the data, the State Board of Education decides the state is falling short, the public needs to know what it will take to get us there and the legislature needs to know how much it will cost.

Those are the questions. Maryland deserves answers.

Robert C. Embry Jr. is president of the Abell Foundation and former president of the Baltimore Board of School Commissioners and the Maryland State Board of Education.

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