Cumberland Times-News

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November 25, 2013

State’s high exclusion rate on national reading assessment raises questions

More than half of English language learners, students with learning disabilities blocked from taking exam

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — While Maryland public schools scored above national averages on a recent national reading assessment, the state had blocked more than half of English language learners and students with learning disabilities from taking the test.

The Washington Post reported Maryland excluded 62 percent of students in the two categories from the fourth-grade reading test. The state also blocked 60 percent of those students from taking the eighth-grade reading test.

Maryland’s exclusion rate was more than double that of any other state on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The governing board overseeing the test has set a goal that states exclude just 15 percent of learning-disabled and English language learners.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery said she plans to review the state’s exclusion rates and the impact on test scores.

“We do need for those students to be included, absolutely,” Lowery said. “We want parents and students to know exactly how they are performing, as it relates to what they’ve been able to do, and that they’re ready to graduate from high school (being) college- and career-ready.”

Clayton Best, Maryland’s NAEP coordinator, said the state offers an accommodation known as “read aloud” for learning-disabled students on annual exams. In those cases, a person or computer reads the text to the student. NAEP does not permit the read-aloud accommodation, so Maryland can exclude those students.

“What concerns me is the implication that this is a conscious process to eliminate students taking the test to improve the NAEP scores,” Best said. “There’s no motivation to do that at all.”

Some experts question the read-aloud accommodation, saying it no longer tests students on reading.

Even advocates for people with disabilities who support the accommodation question the state’s high exclusion rate.

“That number is a red flag,” said Lindsay Jones, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “It stands out this year in particular because NAEP’s (average) exclusion rate has dropped so much.”

The National Center on Education Statistics estimated how states would perform on the test if it included students with learning disabilities and English language learners. Maryland’s score would have dropped about eight points for fourth-grade reading and five points for eighth-grade reading.

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