Gaming Special Education

Seeing schools accommodating children with special needs or learning disabilities is indeed comforting. The point is to ensure that these children likewise receive the support they need in order to become positive contributors to society. The same standards of career- or college-readiness is therefore applied to special education. In the US, states provide additional support in terms of staff and resources to schools based on the number of special education students enrolled. These include students with learning disabilities as well as English language learners. Having schools actively identifying students with needs is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good sign that schools are taking disability seriously. Unfortunately, there is a flip side. There are standardized exams which gauge learning outcomes. One of these is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). States can exclude special education students from this exam. The current policy of the NAEP (issued in 2010) states that "At the national, state, and district levels, the goal is to include 95 percent of all students selected for the NAEP samples, and 85 percent of those in the NAEP sample who are identified as Students with Disabilities (SD) or English Language Learners (ELL)." Since then, the percentages of students being excluded from the NAEP have gone down:

At the national level, schools are indeed complying. At the state level, there seems to be some states still well below the desired 85%. These are Delaware, Georgia and Kentucky. And there is an obvious odd one, the state of Maryland.

Above table copied from
With a substantial fraction of students in Maryland being excluded from the NAEP, it is important to correct its scores on the NAEP. The NAEP has estimated that the "real" score of Maryland, if only the state had complied with the policy of inclusion, is about 10 points lower. As a result, instead of being ranked as number 2 in Grade 4 reading for the entire country, the state drops to number 12.

2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 4



Reading Score


Reading Score
Maryland232.1New Hampshire230.7
New Hampshire232.0Connecticut228.7
Connecticut229.6New Jersey227.8
New Jersey228.7Virginia227.4
Kentucky224.4New York223.1
North Dakota224.1Delaware222.8

Is this gaming? A high ranking in the above table perhaps does not bring more dollars to the schools in Maryland, but it does bring prestige. It probably makes parents in Maryland feel comfortable and proud with their schools. It is misinformation. It sends the wrong assessment to the public. An assessment is supposed to show weakness as well as strength. An assessment is a guide. Incorrectly administering a test serves no purpose when the results do not really resemble reality.