Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Much of the education reform debate has centered on how to close achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their more privileged peers. But research released by the Fordham Institute has questioned whether the nation's best students are being jeopardized because of firm focus on less successful students. A recent panel discussion explored whether a shift in policy could close the "other" achievement gap.
The study, Do Higher Flyers Maintain Their Altitude?: Performance Trends of Top Students, tracked the performance of individual students who scored in the 90th percentile on the Northwest Evaluation Association's Measures of Academic Progress assessments in math and reading. The data pool was drawn from 4,800 school systems and about 5 million students. One group was followed from third through eighth grade; the other from sixth through tenth grade.
The study found, on average, nearly 60 percent of students remained in the 90th percentile throughout the timeframe. But, its authors observed, that meant between 30 and 50 percent (depending on age and subject) fell out of the high-performing group. Most of those students remained above the 75th percentile, but 13 percent of initially high-performing students fell below that.
John Cronin, study co-author and director of the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association, stressed that the report did not seek to explain why some students had failed to maintain their high level of achievement. He did, however, explain the stakes for those that did. Students whose achievement fell below the 90th or 75th percentile would have fewer opportunities for higher education and a decreased likelihood of receiving any kind of financial aid to further their education, Cronin said.
Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, rebuffed some of the study's conclusions, however. He pointed out, as the study itself did, that slightly more students moved up into the high-performing percentile than dropped out of it. The focus should remain on helping disadvantaged students improve, Boser said.
Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, bridged some of the gap between Boser and Cronin. He did criticize "achievement gap mania," saying that it inevitably led to some students receiving the bulk of the attention at the expense of others. However, he did agree with Boser in that some students face a natural disadvantage because of their circumstances, often growing up in low-income areas, and their situation should not be ignored.
As efforts are taken to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, it seems likely that states will take a more central role in drafting education policy. So, Hess suggested, they should use the tools at their disposal to create a comprehensively improved education system that allows both groups of students to flourish. When pressed by Governing, he offered some outlines for what that kind of policy might look like:
Full video of the panel can be viewed below. Hess' three pieces of advice starts at 1:20:41.
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