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Achievement Gap On NAEP: More Stubborn in Higher Grades

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How are we doing narrowing the achievement gap between black and white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress? My colleague Sean Cavanagh brings you the latest on that. And it looks better at the 4th grade level than at the 8th.

For instance, Sean reports, 14 states and the District of Columbia narrowed the gap in math scores between 1992 and 2007 in 4th grade, but only four states did so (between 1990 and 2007) in 8th grade.

In reading, only three states narrowed the scores gap at the 4th grade level, but none did so at the 8th grade level.

Put that together with earlier trend data from NAEP, which found that high schoolers' scores have remained flat over time while those of younger students have improved, and it creates the disheartening—though not shockingly new—picture that the older our students get, the less effective we are at boosting their achievement.

Just yesterday, someone I interviewed for a story told me that he thinks we haven't yet produced a "sufficient level of outrage" to catalyze profound school-improvement work at the secondary school level. What will it take?

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Do we really want more outrage? When you're lost in the woods, the first thing you do is stop walking in circles and then you "hug a tree." NCLB was big on outrage and its intimidated people into working harder. But what good does it do to raise elementary test scores if you don't even improve middle school reading comprehension, must less prepare students for high school?

At Core Knowledge I just saw the famous quote by Yeates that education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire. The righteous indignation, that gave us the cycle of blame and shame of NCLB, has barely helped add stuff to the buckets and it has made it harder to light fires in the imaginations of high school kids.

When I get frustrated by "reformers" who are full of righteousness but short on concrete experience in urban education and who thus don't know what we don't know about school turnarounds, I should look on the bright side. At least I'm not following them while they're lost in the woods and getting in deeper trouble because they are so cocksure that they know the one correct path out of the wilderness.

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