WASHINGTON – Maryland is falling down on the job when it comes to producing students ready to enter the workforce, a new U.S. Chamber of Commerce study says, but the state countered that the grading system is unfair because Maryland doesn’t even use a key test considered in the report.
And, the Maryland State Department of Education said, it is working on a program that should rectify the state’s one “F” grade.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined the education reform effort last year, citing concerns that today’s schoolchildren may not be able to fill the 35 million jobs the Department of Labor estimates will be available by 2012, and compete in the global economy.
“This is a matter of critical national urgency,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at a Wednesday news conference.
“For far too long, the business community has been willing to leave education to politicians and educators without comments, standing aside and contending themselves with offers of money and support and goodwill.”
Despite decades of reform efforts and trillions of dollars, Donohue said, U.S. schools are not equipping the nation’s children with skills and education they need.
At stake, he said, is the continued success and competitiveness of the American economy and the viability of the American dream.
The chamber’s new Institute for a Competitive Workforce, as well as the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and other affiliates, assembled a team of experts last year.
The team spent a year analyzing and aggregating existing education data and used new measures, including evaluating the relationship between spending and student achievement, to grade education performance state-by-state and produce a nationwide business plan to restructure and improve the education system.
Graded on the study’s nine new measures for educational effectiveness, Maryland received two A’s, for “postsecondary and workforce readiness” and teaching force quality and two B’s, for academic achievement by low-income and minority students and management and policy flexibility.
The state also received four C’s and an F.
The C’s came for academic achievement, “truth in advertising about student proficiency,” “return on investment,” and “rigor of standards.”
“I don’t know where they get that,” said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Board of Education, upon hearing some of the study’s results.
Reinhard had not yet seen the study, but reacted when he heard that the study used National Assessment of Educational Progress tests as a source for three categories in which the state scored a C.
“We comply with ‘No Child Left Behind.’ They’re entirely different tests,” Reinhard said. “Maryland takes seriously the federal law, which tests students in grades three through eight and 10, as required.”
NAEP tests, national tests on subjects ranging from reading to mathematics, are delivered to fourth- and eighth-grade students in select communities, Reinhard said.
Grades for “rigor of standards,” the other category earning Maryland a “C,” were based on a formula that contemplates whether the state “aligned” its standards with college and workplace expectations and whether they adopted sufficiently rigorous exit exams.
Maryland is phasing in a high school graduation exam that will be required statewide in 2009, but it is not one of the eight states that fully aligned its standards with businesses and college expectations.
Reinhard was shocked at first to hear that Maryland earned an “F” for “data quality.”
Maryland has been collecting and reporting data for 20 years, Reinhard said, and was one of first school systems to do so.
Then he learned that grades were based on criteria, including whether a state uses a unique statewide student identifier, whether it can match student test scores from year to year, and whether it can match data on teachers with students’ academic results, and other measures the study defined as benchmark metrics.
The state does not have such a system, Reinhard said, but last year decided to implement an identifier system, in which each public school student would be assigned a number and tracked throughout his or her education. The program should roll out over the next few years.