George calls for hearing on school ranking

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron George has called for a General Assembly hearing into whether Maryland's exclusion of a high percentage of special education students from standardized testing artificially inflated the score of the state's schools in national rankings.

George, a state delegate from Anne Arundel County, issued a statement Tuesday in which he called for answers on what he called the O'Malley administration's "reading test cheating scandal."

The Sun reported last week that Maryland may have achieved its No. 1 ranking on Education Week's ranking of state school systems in part by excluding a higher percentage of special education students from reading testings than any other state. By excluding special ed students at such a high rate, the state appears to have gained 5 points in eighth grade reading score and 7 in fourth grade.

George, ranking member of the House Ways & Means education subcommittee, accused the administration of cheating its way to No. 1 -- a ranking Gov. Martin O'Malley and legislative leaders frequently boast about.

"I am demanding answers about who in the administration was involved in this cheating scandal, what exactly they knew and when they knew it. I am calling on the leaders in the General Assembly to convene hearings to get to the bottom of this matter," George said. "We tell our students cheating is wrong and hold them accountable when they make a mistake. What message are we sending them now when corrupt politicians abuse the education system to advance their own political agendas?"

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch said no hearings have been scheduled on the topic.

George is seeking the GOP nomination in a race against Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Charles County business executive Charles Lollar and former Ehrlich administration appointments secretary Larry Hogan.

On the Democratic side of the race, Attorney Douglas F. Gansler also weighed in on the controversy.

"The parents of Maryland deserve honest and transparent testing – and a more thorough explanation of how they were misled by a system that appears to have put a blind desire to pump up scores ahead of the needs of Maryland families," he said in a statement released by his campaign. "Let's not shy away from challenges, let's take them on with a commitment to early education programs, afterschool and summer learning bridge initiatives, getting our children the tools they need to succeed."

Gansler is running against Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Montgomery County Del. Heather R. Mizeur for the Democratic nomination.

In a statement, O'Malley press secretary defended the state's record and downplayed the significance of the test scores in the Education Week ranking system that bestowed the No. 1 ranking on Maryland. The publication also considers school funding levels and other factors.

"Some people are so desperate to score political points, that they're willing to question the achievements our students and educators have earned for five consecutive years," Press Secretary Nina Smith said. 

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