The bad news in the good news

I meant to post about an article from last week’s Wall Street Journal, which presented a somewhat different take on the mildly encouraging NAEP fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores (I’ve blogged about these earlier.) The article, entitled “Brightest Stall, Low Achievers Gain” probably isn’t available directly to non-subscribers. Still, here’s the most pertinent section:

“A Wall Street Journal analysis of national elementary and high school reading, writing, math and social studies exams shows dramatic progress–sometimes double-digit increases–for the lowest achievers over the last two decades, especially after No Child Left Behind. But the scores of the brightest students have, for the most part, inched up marginally or stalled.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, the average score of students in the lowest 10% was 174 out of 500 in 2011, up 15 points from 2000. The score of students in the top 10% was 264, statistically unchanged since 2000 at 262.
In fact, of the 17 subject exams given in elementary and high school over the last decade, top-scoring kids showed progress on only four: fourth and eighth grade math, and minimal gains in 8th and 12th grade reading. Meantime, the lowest achievers improved on 11 exams.”

The article goes on to suggest that gifted children have been hurt by “the 1990s effort to ‘mainstream’ gifted students who previously had been taught in separate classes, and to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which put intense focus on the lowest achievers.

I personally think we were right, as a nation, to focus more resources and attention on at-risk kids . . . but I also agree that it’s dangerously easy for administrators and teachers to figure that the brightest kids will find their own way.

Tomorrow I’ll tell a story about how I learned that this was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here’s a link to the Wall Street Journal article.

And here’s a link to a Thomas Fordham Institute research report provocatively titled “Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude.” The answer, by the way: “A majority of high flyers maintained their status over time, but substantial numbers “lost altitude.” Nearly three in five students identified as high-achieving in the initial year of the study remained high-achieving in the final year.”

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