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Report Says High Achievers' Scores Inch Up Under NCLB


A new study documents the steady improvement of low-achieving students (who are disproportionately African-American, Hispanic, or other minorities) in the NCLB era and the small gains made by high achievers (who are disproportionately white or Asian-American). The achievement gap between them is narrowing.

"The general pattern is one of all boats rising; but the boats at the 10th percentile rose more than those at the 90th percentile," Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution writes in the new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

In a survey of 900 teachers, 24 percent said that attention and resources dedicated to gifted students have declined in the past five years; 45 percent said it has stayed about the same.

Mike Petrilli says the report's findings are evidence that Congress should "rethink NCLB's accountability measures" (He also provides links to the media coverage.) Eduwonkette writes that state accountability systems that predated NCLB produced the same results. And Robert Pondiscio "is giddy" the issue is getting attention because bored, gifted kids were his "No. 1 concern as a classroom teacher."

Here's my question: If "all boats" are rising, doesn't that mean student achievement is progressing in ways desired by NCLB's framers? Kids at all levels are improving while the achievement gap is narrowing. Perhaps the achievement of gifted kids isn't increasing as quickly as some would like, but the achievement gap will never narrow if low achievers' performance doesn't increase faster than that of high achievers.


David, you are absolutely right about the illusion that the achievement gap is narrowing. However, I hesitate to believe the lowest achieving students are actually making more gains rather than "the data" merely being manipulated to show the desired results. For instance, look at Georgia's 8th grade CRCT math scores, it looks like 38% of the kids failed, so how many of them were disadvantaged, minoirty, or socioeconomically disadvantaged? Same with our 6th and 7th grade Social Studies scores being tossed out at the whim of our state superintendant because the scores did not reflect positively on the system. Than again, Social studies scores only count in high school when the kids go to take the high school exit exam....
I know from personal experience that the high achievers are not given challenging reading material. Therefore, this parent will expose my child to academic challenges that I know he will not receive in school.
Perhaps we can just stop public education altogether and teach the children to wait tables, do manicures, shovel rocks, pick pecans, pick cotton, wash tables, etc. Than we can all pat ourselves on the back knowing that all the kids are the same and everybody will be equal and we will all live happily ever after in Utopia instead of America.

Statistically speaking, it's difficult to compare performance at the top and bottom or a distribution. Moving a child from the 25th percentile to the 35th percentile is a significantly different task than moving a child from the 90th percentile to the 100th. It's called the ceiling effect.

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