Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eduwonkette on High Achieving Students

Eduwonkette has a great post with state data that may provide a great deal of support for the notion that high achieving students may be getting the short shrift in the NCLB era.
Savvy New York City parents have long suspected that high achieving kids are losing out in the push to boost the achievement of the lowest performing students. But those suspicions are often cast aside by public officials as helicopter parent whining or muted class warfare.

But a review of 4th grade test score data from 2003-2008 suggests that these parents have been on to something. Between 2003 and 2008, the fraction of students scoring in the highest achievement level on the 4th grade NY state ELA test has plummeted.

In 2003, 15.6% of 4th graders scored at Level 4. By 2008, only 5.8% did. In other words, the fraction of students scoring at Level 4 in 2003 was about 2.7 times higher than this year. At the same time, the percentage of students scoring at proficiency has increased 9 percentage points, from 52.4% to 61.3%.
This may not be a damning indictment, but it does go to show that there is a disconnect.

Now, to be fair, this is not all that surprising. Schools are, fairly or unfairly, measured on their success at getting student to the proficient level. As I, and others, have noted, schools can only pay so much attention to anyone priority, so the lack of attention paid to high achieving students is not all that surprising.

But least people use this New York finding the Eduwonkette highlights as fodder for more attacks on NCLB, I think it is important that we not confuse correlation for causation. Just because there is a relationship between the decline amoung high achieving students for the time frame since NCLB, we should not believe that NCLB caused the dip.

I submit, based largely upon anecdotal and personal experience, that high achieving students are routinely given the short shrift. Even with gifted and talented programs, many schools simply do not offer enough instruction for high achieving kids. Whether the problem is a lack of focus, lack of understanding, lack of funds or lack of priority, high achieving students are often not stretched to the maximum potential.

I further submit that this trend has been the case long before NCLB was even on the legislative agenda in Texas, let alone nationally. American schools have long struggled with the outlier cases, whether it is high achieving students or learning disabled children. Part of the problem is the "return on investment" matter, that is teh schools get the most "bang for the buck" by focusing on the kids in the middle of the bell curve. But in recent decades a great deal of attention has been paid to learning disabled kids, (with the moniker of "special needs kids" which also applies to high achieving kids also). So the kids with the greatest potential have long been on the bottom of the list for attention. Again, I don't necessarily fault the schools for the lack of focus, but it seems to be finally coming home to roost, particularly in the era of the helicopter parent.

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