If you had read last week’s Gadfly, the Fordham’s Institutes weekly bulletin, you would have been left with the impression that high achieving students have been neglected since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Although that is clearly what our friends at Fordham wanted you to think, you would be wrong.
Fordham based their rhetoric on a report they released last week called High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. The report aimed to determine whether high achieving students were making as many academic gains as low achieving students based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. The report also included a survey of 900 teachers around the country to gain insight into their views on how schools focus on high achieving students.
Although BoardBuzz found the report quite informative and well prepared, the rhetoric from Fordham just did not match the findings. Contrary to the thinking that high achieving students have been left behind, the report actually found that high achieving students (those scoring in the top 10 percent on NAEP) have been making similar gains on NAEP over the past 20 years. BoardBuzz hardly thinks that’s being left behind. On the other hand, low achieving students (those scoring in the bottom 10 percent) have been making 4 times as many gains on NAEP since NCLB was enacted compare to before.
Fordham sees the steady increases of high achievers as proof that NCLB is leaving our high achievers behind, rather than recognizing that schools are doing an amazing job of improving the achievement of their most challenging students while also increasing the achievement of their best and brightest. Isn’t this what we want schools to do? If you had listened to Fordham you would think the achievement of high achieving students remained flat or even declined but this simply is not the case. Would we all like to see greater gains from all our students? Of course. There is always room for improvement, but that does not mean that high performers have been neglected.
What was most striking to BoardBuzz, which no one else seems to be talking about, are the huge gains low achieving students have made in recent years. Reason being, BoardBuzz has heard a lot that schools have been forced to focus on only those students right below or above proficiency, so called bubble kids, at the expense of their low and high performing students to raise their proficiency rates since high achievers would reach proficiency anyway and low achievers weren’t likely to. Fortunately the report shows that this appears to be untrue. Although NCLB implicitly encourages schools to do so, they are not just focusing on these bubble kids at the expense of other students. As a matter of fact, both high and low achieving students are making solid academic gains and teachers report focusing on their low achieving students.
Does BoardBuzz agree with the report that future accountability systems should provide incentives to schools to focus on high achieving students? We certainly do. Schools deserve a pat on the back for their efforts and improvements they are making with their low achieving students. It is certainly time for accountability systems, both state and national, to use more carrots than sticks and to recognize the gains students below and above proficiency are making. This is just one of many reasons Congress needs to act now to change NCLB.
For a summary of High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB go to the Center for Public Education. While there also check out Measuring Student Growth: A guide for informed decision making to learn more about how to measure student growth.