Maryland Preliminary Test Scores are Released, and it is a Devastating Picture Being Used for Political Reasons
Elections are over. County Commissions and School Boards are getting trained and seated. Newly elected/re-elected state and national officials are being sworn in and inaugurated.
And the 2022 Maryland Test Scores are being released. They are devastating.
It’s a timely release now that the elections are over. A release that would normally occur in August or September was initially pushed back to January. The excuses were many. New test. Standard Setting. Item testing. Whether any of those excuses were valid remains in question. And after viewing the scores, the larger issue comes into view.
Our children are failing, and we are failing our children.
Board members, politicians, and Union officers across the state will deny that. They’ll shout “Covid, covid, covid” from the rooftops and will convince us that the Pandemic closures they created and enforced, the mask mandates they clung to, and the problems they designed are the main causes of this disaster.
They are not completely wrong. All of those actions are contributors to the educational plunge of our students. The irony is that those very groups shouting this were the ones who refused to listen to parents when parents saw that the lockdown of the schools and mask and vaccine mandates were destroying our children. Research articles were sent to education officials across the state to help them understand that they were sacrificing our children for a virus that would infect and harm less than one percent of the students they were claiming to protect. And now those students are paying a horrible price. Most of the officials ignored the information. Others ridiculed and admonished the people who sent them, telling them they were sending “misinformation.”
But now the test scores have been released and the proverbial chickens have come home to roost:
The document put out by the Maryland State Department of Education is long, but here are a couple of snapshots of the data from the English Language Arts and Math on the Maryland tests.
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One of my favorite descriptors here is the one that says, “Proficient Learners demonstrate proficiency.” I guess there was not a thesaurus nearby to find another word for “proficient.” To define a term with the term is idiocy. Maybe the authors of this report didn’t score very well on their ELA tests.
No matter how you define the levels, the testing data is clear. In English/Language Arts, in all grades except 10th, less than half the students are proficient or above. Think about that. If you have a thousand graduates coming out of the Maryland Public Schools, 500 out of 1,000 won’t be able to read and write with the proficiency that would be expected from a high school graduate. That doesn’t bode well for students going to college or the workforce.
In the case of those who go to college, many will find themselves unprepared to do collegiate-level work, even when colleges lower their standards to accommodate them. This is why colleges have now eliminated SAT scores for acceptance and have started giving college credit for remedial courses. If they don’t, they will have students not attending, dropping out, or failing in their first year. This costs the colleges tuition money and certainly angers their customers, parents, and students.
Even students who go on to job training or jobs will be hobbled by this lack of knowledge. An employee who cannot read directions is not only inefficient but could put himself and others in danger. The same goes for writing.
But if you thought English Language Arts was bad, when one looks at the Math scores, it’s as though we have crossed over into an education system in the poorest, most uneducated country in the world. Less than thirty percent of our elementary students and less than 20 percent of our secondary students are proficient in math. In 8th grade, it is less than 10 percent. That means that out of 1,000 high school graduates in Maryland, 800 are not able to do rudimentary math.
Good thing they have computers doing all the calculations at stores, right? Ask an employee to give you change from a purchase or determine a 20% discount, and you will encounter a deer in headlights. No wonder kids are in such economic straits with college loans; they couldn’t do the math to figure out how much they would be paying for them after graduation.
The disaster is in plain sight for all to see. I could go on about the terrible effects of these scores, but I think that would be beating a dead horse. Instead, let’s look at the politics of these scores.
In September, I spoke to our local school board about the fact that the Maryland State Department of Education did not release scores in a timely fashion. I also wrote about it in this blog:
You can read my analysis of the motives for holding back these scores in that blog.
After I wrote this blog and spoke in front of our local Board of Education, I was told by a Board member at a subsequent Board meeting that the delay was merely for the standard setting, item testing, and implementation of a new test. I politely said that I was well aware of the systems and processes involved in statewide testing since I had been a local accountability coordinator in my county in the 2000s. Even when we gave the Maryland State Assessment that required essay answers and laborious scoring, we were able to get scores out in a timely fashion.
And then I politely told her that the reasons she was giving were bull. (This is not an indictment of HER but of the lies, the state tells.)
We have to understand how this all works. If the state had released these scores prior to the November election, they could have drastically changed the results in many races, particularly gubernatorial and local school board elections. Democrats and teachers’ unions, who have been in charge of education for decades, would have suffered. Those “Apple ballot” endorsements could have turned into poison pills.
Now that elections are over, the dismal scores will serve a purpose for both the education establishment and the unions.
Educators have a love/hate relationship with testing. Ever since standardized tests were created, they have used them to pat themselves on the back AND to demonstrate that they could do so much better if they only had more money, sometimes all in the same press release.
Frankly, educators haven’t had anything to pat themselves on the back for in the last forty years. Standardized testing, once used to assess how individual students were doing, has never given systems good news about the achievement of groups of students. Even when the Bush Administration bragged that “No Child Left Behind” would improve student achievement because it made testing high stakes for systems, test scores year after year were depressing. Once data was disaggregated, this trend was even worse. Threats of replacing school administration and teachers if minorities did not do well on tests did nothing other than cause staff to quit or cheat. In fact, many of us scoffed at the threat. We knew they could never replace the staff of all the schools they called failing. The threats never made minority or any scores inch one tick higher.
When Maryland introduced “high stakes” tests for graduation, schools quickly found out that too many students could not pass these tests. They created “workarounds” for those students whose graduation would be prevented by failing test scores. They created easy “bridge projects” to take the place of the tests. It was sort of like the long-time practice of putting students into the “magic course credit room,” where credit for a semester course could be earned in a week so a star athlete could walk the stage and get that diploma. Educators can be quite creative in cheating the testing achievement obstacle. Every year they bragged about increased graduation rates even with high-stakes testing in place. No one talked about how that was actually achieved.
The sad reality is that our children are the victims and pawns in the testing paradigm.
As the recent scores in Maryland show, the students are victims as they are not getting the education they need and deserve. Aside from the lockdowns, even what has been done in schools since they re-opened has been a disaster. Instead of focusing on catching kids up on content and skills, schools have veered towards a destructive obsession with social engineering, using gender, racial division, and mental health malpractice in classrooms. It’s as though they realize that the damage they did during the pandemic is impossible to undo, so they center on woke distractions that neither help nor educate children.
This focus also promotes the “community schools” concept that Maryland is pushing with the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. If you don’t know what those are, here’s an explanation:
This brings us to the fact that students have become pawns in the big money grab by the U.S. Department of Education, the Maryland Department of Education, and the teachers’ unions.
While these scores were sequestered to protect Democrats before the election, the political establishment can now release them to justify and demand more money in the bloated education budget. In his book RACE TO THE BOTTOM, Luke Rosiak shares the lies spouted about education funding by Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. All three claim that schools have been inadequately and inequitably funded over many decades. As Rosiak writes, “K-12 education spending has nearly doubled since 1980 and almost quadrupled since 1960. In 1950, America spent the modern equivalent of $2784 per child on education; in 2017, it was $15424. Yet history is not littered with one-room schoolhouses where zero students could do math.” (Source- justfacts.com/education#k12_spend)
He’s referring to the fact that in recent testing, thirteen of Baltimore’s thirty-nine high schools did not have a single student who was proficient in math according to state testing. Six other high schools only had 1 percent test proficient.
Rather than question the focus and teaching in schools that produced these awful statistics, the scores will be the bottom line for increasing funding. The refrain by educators everywhere will be, “We could get kids to learn if we only had more money.”
They’ll talk about student readiness in kindergarten and how it negatively impacts the ability of children to learn. If you look at the State readiness scores, they might support this idea. However, if there is a correlation between readiness scores and scores in later grades, then why do some scores actually DROP as kids progress through the system? Why are 8th graders doing worse in math than 1st graders? Instead of addressing that question, educators will use the usual mantra promoting all-day kindergarten and pre-K and, of course, more money. In the teaching ranks, we used to call this “blaming it downward.” It means that you blame failure at your grade on the grades before.
Along comes the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to solve the funding problem. Now, with lousy scores to back it up, the Blueprint will be touted as the only way to solve the achievement problem. Counties won’t have a choice about how much funding they give schools.
There will be consequences. With the passing of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future mandating local jurisdictions to increase school funding, many counties will be locked into drastically raising local tax rates to meet the needs of the mandate. For example, our county, Talbot, is projected to see an increase of 20% in the required local school appropriation in 2023. By 2028, the per pupil expenditure in Talbot will be mandated to increase by over $2,000. This will translate to an increase in the total appropriation for the schools from 48.7 million in 2023 to 61.5 million in 2028 and 81.0 million in 2034. Needless to say, taxes on the citizens of the county will rise accordingly. Inflation has not been calculated as part of these numbers. The county will either have to bankrupt many of its citizens or defund other country expenditures such as law enforcement, etc.
The scores will be a large part of the rationale for the increase. Counties like Talbot, which is in the middle of the ranking of the scores, are not like jurisdictions such as Baltimore City, Prince George’s, and Dorchester Counties, whose scores are at the bottom. One could possibly justify that those counties should increase their funding. The Blueprint will assure that counties like Talbot, which may not need to increase education funding, will do so at a huge price, regardless of the needs and stated opinions of local taxpayers. One wonders if the state wants to punish Talbot for its tax cap.
Meanwhile, the Teachers’ Unions which spend less than a dime of every dollar of their assets of over 400 million dollars on improving teacher working conditions, students, and education, uses these test scores to demand higher teacher pay. The problem is that the facts don’t support the idea that higher teacher pay will increase student achievement. In fact, data shows that once teachers teach from year five onward, performance flatlines regardless of pay or higher degrees. In fact, many teachers with Master’s Degrees actually do a worse job than those without, regardless of the financial incentive they were given to get an advanced degree. But, the union wants salaries to increase so their membership fees can increase. So, they use bad test scores to demand higher teacher pay. (You don’t get what you pay for: paying teachers more for master’s degrees (nctq.org))
If you think about it, that demand makes no sense. If teachers deserve higher pay, shouldn’t they be helping their students achieve? Does failure usually command a raise? As a matter of fact, are teachers the problem with the test scores? Maybe the educational bureaucracy should start looking at all the strategies that teachers have been forced to use instead of time-proven pedagogy or the million-dollar “programs” that make publishers rich but don’t help kids learn. (For a look inside this, listen to this podcast: Sold a Story | Podcast on Spotify )
As a former teacher, I think the demand that teachers receive higher pay to increase test scores is insulting. It implies that teachers will only work to help their students learn if they are paid more. Most teachers I know would gladly accept a pay raise, but they work hard for their students without it. They will tell you exactly what needs to happen for the scores to improve. In many cases, they would prefer to have better working conditions, instructional assistants, and administrator support. But, no one in local, state, or national administration wants to listen.
Clearly, the testing industry, the education bureaucracy, and the unions collude every year to keep the money pipeline going. Test scores are a tool for them, not for improving student learning, but for getting political advantage and thus more power and money. Don’t forget that the testing industry is one that brought in 24.9 billion dollars in 2022, and they did it without much oversight. (ibisworld.com)
Where do we go from here? With so much at stake, state testing isn’t going anywhere. And, like most data in the hands of politicians, it’s likely that test data will be manipulated to coerce money and votes.
Parents and taxpayers will have to stay engaged in the process. Go to meetings, ask questions, and demand accountability. Follow the data from year to year and the correlation between that data and school budget demands. When you get your child’s scores, compare them to what you see from your child. Disregard the political spin of Unions and government officials. Don’t buy their interpretation of the data at face value. Remember that they have motives that don’t include the best interests of children.
Encourage your school board members to ask questions and analyze everything. Hold them accountable if they don’t!
Don’t limit your engagement to just the school board meetings, but also stay in contact with your county council, especially during budget time. Local legislators will be under extreme duress to fund bloated education budgets even beyond the mandates. We need to support them when they have to say “no.”
These huge government testing programs and budgets are in place. But, citizens can be a speedbump in the way of their full funding and implementation.