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High Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind

Fordham's new study on how high achievers have fared under No Child Left Behind is out. (See NYT coverage here.) Here's the main story:

* While the nation's lowest-achieving youngsters made rapid gains [on NAEP] from 2000 to 2007, the performance of top students was languid. Children at the 10th percentile of achievement (the bottom 10 percent of students) have shown solid progress in fourth grade reading and math and in eighth grade math since 2000, but those at the 90th percentile have made minimal gains.

* This pattern - big gains for low achievers and lesser ones for high achievers - is associated with the introduction of accountability systems in general, not just NCLB. An analysis of state data from the 1990s shows that states that adopted testing and accountability regimes before NCLB saw similar patterns before NCLB: stronger progress for low achievers than for high achievers.

All of this, of course, should have been expected in a system focused on proficiency rather than growth. And contrary to popular belief, NCLB's growth model pilot doesn't allow true value-added models, but is instead based on a "projection model." Michael Weiss has a great commentary in Ed Week this week on this issue:

In practice, projection models are extremely similar to NCLB’s original status measure. In schools where students enter with high initial achievement levels, the learning gains required to get students on track to become proficient are quite small, while in schools where students enter with low initial achievement levels, the required learning gains to get students on track to become proficient may be unrealistically large. Consequently, under the federal growth-model program, schools are still held to different standards­—some must produce large gains while others need only to produce small gains. Both status and projection models require all students to reach a fixed proficiency target regardless of their initial achievement levels. It is because No Child Left Behind’s status model and the growth-model pilot program’s projection models are so similar that very few new schools are making AYP because of “growth” alone.

If Tom Toch's post over at The Quick and the Ed is any indication, it looks like many factors are coming together to shift the winds on NCLB - both from proficiency to value-added models, and from ignoring the role of out-of-school factors to acknowledging that it is unfair to hold schools solely accountable for them. Said Toch:

What we need to do is find ways to give schools credit for successfully improving the educational performance of the kids they have, by using so-called value-added measures of student performance, and by capturing more than just how well schools teach basic reading and math skills....Yes, we need to hold schools and teachers accountable for their performance....But no, we shouldn’t pretend that poverty has no impact on students. No accountability system can work unless it is credible, and NCLB, as currently crafted, is not.

Here is what the National Association for Gifted Children is saying about this important issue:

Groundbreaking Study Confirms
Nation is Shortchanging Our Brightest Students

WASHINGTON (June 18, 2008) – A national study released today by the Fordham Institute confirms our nation continues to neglect the learning needs of gifted students. Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Past President of the National Association for Gifted Children and member of the study’s peer-review panel issued the following statement:

“As our nation makes significant gains boosting the performances of low-achieving students, we continue to shortchange our gifted students. Settling for stagnation or modest learning gains penalizes gifted learners, especially underserved students whose needs continue to go unmet, and jeopardizes our nation’s future as we struggle to compete in the global economy.

“Especially alarming are findings that our nation’s teachers do not consider themselves prepared to meet the unique learning needs of gifted students, nor do they feel encouraged by the system to focus on cultivating the talents of our gifted learners. While no one will dispute the critical need of increasing proficiency for students at the lowest levels, doing so at the expense of high-performing students – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – only perpetuates the cycle of inequality and results in continued underperformance in the classroom.

“I hope this study serves as a wake-up call if we as a nation are truly committed to leaving no child behind and investing in students from all ability levels to maximize their potential. Nothing less than our future is at stake.”

I don't remember gifted kids being treated any better or worse pre-NCLB.

We need to hoold parents accountable for education also. Education starts at home. Parents need to send their children ready to learn by taking some active interet in their children's education. I teach fourth grade and children are getting more and more disruptive and out of control. Parents believe that schools are responsible and they can wash their hands of the whole process.

I don't see gifted students being treated any differently. I do see that the lower achieving students are the ones who are losing the battle in education due to their environment and the gang violence in the streets. The household is a major issue as well. The home is where discipline and learning begins.

Combine the Fordham study with Colangelo's A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Best Students and you have the conscious sacrifice of our brightest young minds.
What a deceptive manner to close an achievement gap by stifling the top!!

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