Maryland students expected to struggle less to meet new standards

Teachers and administrators across the state are nervous about the move this fall to a new curriculum, one that everyone believes will expect a lot more from students. The Common Core will require students to read more non-fiction, to write more often and to learn math more deep. The switch from a Maryland curriculum to a voluntary national curriculum means school systems are now deep in the weeds of rewriting their lessons for the fall or winter. So there's a lot of angst in schools around the region and across the country.

But a report out today by the Education Trust should let Maryland educators relax a little. The Trust says Maryland schools have a better track record of success from 2003 to 2011 than almost any other state in the nation, and so public school students here won't have to stretch as far to meet the new standards. The analysis is based on dissecting the NAEP scores from 2003 to 2011. These scores are considered one of the only means right now of comparing student achievement from one state to another. Maryland students are not only some of the highest achieving on both math and reading in fourth and eighth grade, our students have also made greater progress than other states.

For instance, Maryland students made a 12 point gain between 2003 and 2011 on fourth grade reading scale scores, a gain that was the second best in the nation. Only Alabama had a greater increase. In addition, the state's overall achievement on those same tests ranked third in the nation. 

But there's even more good news. Maryland's low income and African American students had some of the highest gains in the nation on the test as well. Low income students gained 15 scale score points, the report said, one of the highest in the nation during that period.

When all the grades and subjects were considered, "Maryland was the only state whose overall performance and improvement were above the national average," the report said. Massachusetts though leads the pack in improving performance of low income students in all subjects and grade levels, but Maryland again did better than most states. 

 Exactly why the state is doing so well is a puzzle, of course. Maryland's median income of $70,004 in 2011 was the highest in the nation, and often student achievement follows income. However, Maryland's low income and minority students made gains as well which might not be able to explained by median income.

 Maryland State School Superintendent Lillian Lowery said Maryland's commitment to funding education, even when other states were cutting back, is important. Those extra dollars have a big impact, particularly on low income students, she said.

But she also believes something more difficult to quantify has changed: teaching. Because teachers are "becoming better at data they are getting better at individualizing instruction for students." She also has traveled the state and talked to teachers who say in recent years they have been given autonomy to be creative about their lessons. 


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