Education, Family, Opinion, Politics

NOW YOU KNOW: Baltimore test scores debacle

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The following is an op-ed piece from Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki.

In January 2023, student data was published on The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) website reporting on the 2021-2022 school year’s MCAP standardized testing. The data revealed that 23 Baltimore City Schools had zero students proficient in math and that other jurisdictions had abysmal results as well. For example, more than half of Baltimore County high schools had two or fewer students test proficient on the state math test. The news went viral and was covered nationally. Shortly after, MSDE took the data down. When the data was reposted in March, much of it is now missing.

Project Baltimore of Fox45 News has been a true investigative journalist following Maryland schools for a number of years. Their reporting of the 23 failing Baltimore City schools made national news, and their investigations have continued into this and other problems facing our public schools.

What has taken place is of top concern for us as lawmakers since it is our responsibility to vote on annual funding for Maryland public schools and usher in the historic Blueprint for Education. As a result of the Blueprint, our public schools will receive massive amounts of additional funding over the next five years.
Maximum transparency in student and school achievement data is essential for parents, schools, educators, and lawmakers to help improve learning. Parents received individual reports on their children’s test scores last month. In addition, parents want to know about their community schools’ performance.

We contacted the Superintendent of Schools, Mohammed Choudhury, and first requested that the original data be restored. Then, we asked follow-up questions regarding the reposted data that removes so much information about school and student achievement that it’s almost useless.

The Superintendent’s response claims that student privacy and ensuring achievement scores, or lack thereof, cannot be identified to a particular student drove the reposting of the data. The federal government has guidelines to protect student privacy that give each state reporting flexibility.

However, the State of Maryland has taken an extreme position on its data privacy guidelines. We also value student privacy, but this goes well beyond what our neighboring states do. For instance, MSDE will not post any scores if the number of students taking the test is less than 30, which is the case for many of our neighborhood schools with small class sizes.

In addition to scrubbing student achievement data from last year, MSDE is going back and changing historical data that has been on its website for years. Going back as far as the 2018-2019 school year, data will be changed using this new suppression model and effectively eliminating schools with zero proficiency from being identified.

Students last year took a new test called MCAP. Previously, students had been taking a test called PARCC. This is partially why the test scores in math across the state were so low, in addition to the learning loss from the pandemic.

In addition to scrubbing the historical data for the new privacy guidelines the state is adopting, they are also attempting to reformulate the student test data to compare the two tests. While we are not data scientists, we know enough to understand that this task is impossible. The MCAP and PARCC test scores cannot legitimately be aligned with one another. We believe that MSDE should let the old data stand as it was. Student privacy was not an issue the last time test scores were posted pre-pandemic. This data gymnastics is a waste of taxpayer money that will not lead to any legitimate outcomes.

While we can argue over data, we are ultimately concerned about children in failing schools. The data should be used to identify educational needs and successes and make a plan to improve the school system. Before pouring more money into a failing system, we want to know how these low-performing schools will be held accountable. A letter dated February 20th that we sent to the Maryland Accountability and Implementation Board asking this question still needs to be answered.

A good education is the best antidote to our social ills. Every child in our state deserves a quality education in a safe environment. Annually, Maryland makes even more historic investments in education, but still, there are children trapped in the same failing schools year after year. We continue to press Superintendent Choudhury and MSDE to stop the data gymnastics and let us know what the state will do to ensure that kids get a quality education. When schools fail to deliver that, what can parents and lawmakers expect to be the solution? We want to know. We will keep fighting for all the children in Maryland to get a quality education regardless of their zip code.

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