By Mike Klein
What’s in the Maryland water? A student performance analysis that contains encouraging news about Georgia also leads to the inescapable conclusion that Maryland has really gotten its act together during the past decade. In a comparison of 2003 and 2011 students, Maryland led the nation in fourth and eighth grade reading improvement and it also led in eighth grade math.
Comprehensive data from the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) also shows Georgia fourth and eighth graders made great strides during the same eight-year span. Georgia students did not lead the region or nation in any category but cumulatively, Georgia students posted some of the best overall gains achieved in any of SREB’s 16-member states.
SREB used data from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement tests to report state results in math and reading, and some other categories including high school graduation and college enrollment rates. SREB did not create a side-by-side comparison for its 16-member states but a Georgia Public Policy Foundation analysis shows that Maryland clearly led the field and Georgia should take heart that its students are moving in the right direction.
Extensive data is available in 16 individual state reports posted on the SREB website. NAEP achievement tests show Maryland students improved by 13 percentage points in fourth grade math, 13 points in fourth grade reading, and 9 points in eighth grade reading. Those were the best results nationwide, although in some cases the results tied other states. Maryland ranked fifth in the SREB region with a 7 percentage points improvement in eighth grade math.
There likely are reasons other than water for Maryland’s performance. SREB notes Maryland has a statistically lower percentage of students approved for free or reduced price meals, 42 percent in the state vs. 58 percent in the SREB region and 52 percent nationally. The childrens’ poverty rate is 9 percent lower than the U.S. rate and 13 percent lower than the SREB region. Poverty itself is not an indicator for academic performance but it can be a contributing factor.
Maryland – like Georgia, a national leader – had publicly funded preschool program enrollment that was 400 percent greater than the number of 4-year-olds living in poverty in 2008. However, that declined to 274 percent by 2010, which could show up in later school readiness analysis.
Here is another potential reason Maryland students perform well: parents emphasize education. SREB noted, “The percent of working-age adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in Maryland topped the region and nation.” Maryland’s average beginning teacher salary is also higher than salaries in neighboring states, the SREB region overall and the nation.
If you’re looking for another SREB region sleeper state in this report, consider Kentucky. Blue Grass state fourth graders improved NAEP math achievement scores by 13 percent, which equaled Maryland’s performance. Compared against other SREB region states, Kentucky fourth graders had the third best improvement rate in fourth grade reading, fifth best in eighth grade math and ninth best in eighth grade reading.
Overall, most SREB region states performed better than national averages in fourth and eighth grade testing, and as we wrote above, there is good news for Georgia which has been much maligned in recent years for sometimes real and sometimes perceived poor academics.
Mathematics has long been one of education’s greatest classroom challenges. States including Georgia have tried several teaching methods as they realigned curriculum. For instance, should algebra and geometry and other math disciplines be taught simultaneously or consecutively?
Georgia students transitioned through at least two different methods of learning math within the past decade. Performance suggests they transitioned well. Fourth graders improved their NAEP test scores by 8 percent and eighth graders boosted their scores by 9 percent between 2003 and 2011. Fourth graders nationally improved 6 percent and eighth graders by 5 percent.
Georgia eighth grade students posted a 59 percent achievement score on 2003 NAEP math tests. That improved to 68 percent in 2011, a 9 percent gain that is well above the 5 percent improvement for eight graders nationally and better than 6 percent achieved in SREB states.
Georgia’s high school graduation rate was 68 percent last year, lower than the average of all 16 SREB states (75 percent) and lower than the national rate (76 percent). It is, however, up from eight years earlier when just 57 percent of Georgia students graduated. The state has a distinct focus on how to increase graduation rates from both high school and higher education.
The bottom of this post contains links to NAEP 2011 state snapshot reports on Georgia. These sites have deep level data about how Georgia is positioned against other states nationally. For instance, Georgia eighth graders achieved the second best reading improvement rate in the 16 SREB states. But where does that place them nationally? The answer is middle of the pack: equal to one dozen states, higher than ten states and lower than the others.
This SREB biennial report was the fifth released over ten years. It comes at a unique moment because nearly every state – not Texas, not Virginia – will launch common core standards this fall. In simplest terms, common core is an attempt to standardize what Jack and Jill are taught so if they move between school districts or between states what they learn in their new school will have some common threads with their previous learning.
At surface level this idea sounds terrific but as with most new ideas, it comes with its share of controversy. Some contend that common core is the start of a nationally mandated curriculum. Others are not pleased the Obama administration made some federal education grants to states dependent on teaching to common core standards. Bill Gates is heavily invested in common core, pushing its creation and investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.
Georgia adopted common core. We will be writing more about that soon.
Additional NAEP Resources
(Georgia Public Policy Foundation intern Mary Chambers assisted with research for this article. Chambers is a marketing major at Berry College in Rome Georgia.)
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is something that I am proud to be a part of today. The research conducted by education groups like yours is invaluable in helping form opinions and allowing people to reach conclusions that ultimately help them make the right decisions.