Credit: Education Sector
Credit: Education Sector

School’s out and many of the state’s low-income students should pat themselves on the back. Between 2003 and 2011, Maryland’s fourth and eighth graders who receive free or reduced lunch doubled their reading and math test scores on a national standardized test score. Their improvements far outweighed those of comparable students across the nation, with the exception of those in Washington, D.C.

“Sound educational policy” was responsible for the impressive leaps in test scores according to Education Sector, an independent educational think tank that analyzed the results of the standardized test formally known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Educational analysts have been watching closely students’ academic growth during this eight-year period that began with the implementation of the Bush administration’s federal No Child Left Behind Act. The act allowed individual states to apply for waivers intended to boost academic performance, especially of children deemed disadvantaged, with the end goal to become “college and career ready”.

The recently published report by Education Sector credited “authenticity” of the plans of high-performing states like Maryland with the dramatic improvements in test scores among their disadvantaged students. But the think tank offered no actual details of what these purportedly authentic plans entailed. The report did indicate, however, that despite progress among disadvantaged students, significant achievement gaps remain.

These gaps are most pronounced between students who receive free or reduced lunch and white students. A national snapshot of students’ test scores in grades four and eight (courtesy of Education Sector) shows that, despite students who receive a free or reduced lunch improving their test scores by an average of 29 points during the eight-year period compared to a less impressive 17-point overall improvement by white students, by 2011 the former group’s average score lagged behind the latter, 956 points versus 1044.

Overall, the results provide cause for cautious optimism. With continued progress, the achievement of all Maryland students will continue to climb, and the gap between various segments of the student population will keep shrinking.