The recently released 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading results for grades 4 and 8 suggest that the sweeping education reforms implemented in Florida since 1998 have led to gains in achievement. One of the concerns raised by NAEP evaluators at a press conference to announce the test’s results was the varying exclusion rates among states of learning disabled students from NAEP participation.

Dr. Steven Paine, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and the president-elect of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) commented on his concern regarding states’ exclusion rates:

According to the new Reading Report Card, West Virginia tests almost all the students selected for its NAEP reading samples. Our exclusion rate is just 2 percent of the sample in both the fourth and eight grades, compared to 9, 11, and 12 percent in some other jurisdictions. These discrepancies do not seem fair.

David Gordon, Sacramento Superintendent, responded to the discussion of varying exclusion rates, suggesting that the Common Core State Standards Initiative led by the CCSSO could play a role in leveling the supposedly unfair playing field of state exclusion rates:

…this whole issue is coming to a head around the common core standards because as you may recall NAEP did a study of mapping the state standards, the current state standards onto the NAEP scale and there was huge variance in the level of performance expected so I think all of this is coming together as a discussion and I really commend the governing board [National Assessment Governing Board] and the committee for moving on this.

Before implementing additional accountability mandates on already overburdened states and suggesting common standards as a solution to the alleged problem, the NAGB, CCSSO, and the public should look more closely at the exclusion rate data. Only Maryland and the District of Columbia, each with 9 percent exclusion for 4th grade, have rates as high as Paine suggests. The current national average exclusion rate of public school students with disabilities in both 4th and 8th grades is 4 percent and many states have remained at their current levels for over a decade.

Even those states with high exclusion rates in the past have moved to not only include more disabled children in NAEP testing, but have simultaneously increased student performance. Of the nine states that saw achievement gains in 8th grade reading on the NAEP, Florida decreased it’s exclusion rate from 7 percent in 1992 to just 3 percent in 2009. Including more learning disabled children in the testing population while continuing to achieve performance gains is a testament to the school reforms taking place in the Sunshine State. With no common core to direct curriculum and no governing board to mandate disabled students’ testing participation, Florida has made gains on the nation’s report card.

Sarah Torre currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: