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Staffers commonly visit families’ homes and make suggestions, sometimes on “very basic parenting skills in combination with” special education, but they can’t force a family to comply, said Judy Pattik, special education coordinator for Howard County Public Schools.

Ms. Pattik doesn’t know why her district’s numbers are so low, but she speculates the county’s strong early intervention program — beginning special education as soon as possible, ideally before youngsters are even in school — and extra help in regular classes, keep students from struggling.

Schools must meet the same federal and state standards, but counties can deliver services in ways that best fit their demographics, which could account for disparities across the state, she said.

“You could not possibly expect services to be delivered the same way in Allegany County as in Baltimore County,” said Marcella Franczkowski, assistant state superintendent of the division of special education and early intervention services at the Maryland Department of Education. “With the distance between schools and homes, things are very different.”