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Exclusion Rates on the Agenda at Meeting of 'Nation's Report Card' Board

The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational  Progress—also known as the "nation's report card"—plans to take up the topic of test exclusions at its quarterly meeting Friday.

The meeting comes as Maryland has drawn attention for its high exclusion rate on the 2013 administration of the assessment, which tested a nationally representative sample of 4th graders and 8th graders on reading and math.

Nationwide, 8th graders' average scores in reading rose 3 points since 2011, the last time the test was administered. In math, the gain was 1 point. Fourth graders had no statistically significant gain in reading, and gained 1 point in math. 

While there was no significant change in Maryland between 2011 and 2013, all of its scores were above the national averages. However, the state also excluded 62 percent of 4th graders with disabilities and English-language learners from taking the reading test. The nationwide exclusion rate for such students, in comparison, was 12 percent. For Maryland 8th graders in those categories, the exclusion rate on the reading test was 60 percent, compared to a nationwide exclusion rate of 13 percent.

Maryland officials told local newspapers that the high exclusion was due in part to the use of a so-called "read-aloud accommodation" on the tests. In Maryland, students with disabilities and English-language learners are allowed to have portions of the state's reading test read aloud to them, but NAEP does not allow such an accommodation.

(The use of a read-aloud accommodation has been a contentious issue on the tests currently under development for the common core.)

The assessment governing board has been wrangling over the issue of exclusion rates for some time. As an independent body that sets policy for the tests, it wants states to test 95 percent of the students identified in a statewide sample of students, and 85 percent of students with disabilities. Only students with severe cognitive disabilities or English-language learners who have been in the country for a short time should be excluded, the organization says. Almost all of the states met the 95 percent assessment goal. Maryland was an exception.

In an article in the Baltimore Sun, state schools superintendent Lillian M. Lowery acknowledged that the exclusion rates seemed problematic, and made the commitment to work more closely with local systems in an attempt to reduce them, said state education department spokesman. "I am concerned about people having a good baseline of information on how we as a state are performing," she told the paper.

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