Sunday, February 7, 2010

Parents of High Achievers Need to Pay Close Attention During Budget-Cutting Season

One of our astute bloggers shared this recent article from Education Week.
tudy Finds Wide Achievement Gaps for Top Students

By Debra Viadero
Premium article access courtesy of

Achievement gaps between students of different genders and racial, economic, and linguistic groups are large and persistent for the nation’s top-performing students, even as they seem to be narrowing for K-12 students as a whole, according to a new report.

For the analysis, released Feb. 4 by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University in Bloomington, researchers analyzed data stretching back as far as 1996 from 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and from state assessments in those subjects.

They found that achievement gaps between girls and boys, white and disadvantaged minority students, poor students and their better-off peers, and English-language learners and their English-speaking counterparts have either widened, stayed the same, or declined by a hair since the late 1990s.

In 4th grade math, for example, the percentage of white students scoring at the advanced level on NAEP tests increased by about 5 percentage points from 1996 to 2007, rising from 2.9 percent to 7.6 percent. But the percentages of black and Hispanic students scoring at that level grew at the same time from near zero to around 1 percent.

Among 4th graders poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the percentage of advanced-level math scorers rose from near zero to 1.5 percent over the same time span. Their better-off peers, in comparison, managed to boost their representation at the highest levels of the test by more than 5 percentage points, growing from 3.1 percent to 8.7 percent.

“People aren’t talking about the gaps at the top,” said lead author Jonathan A. Plucker, a professor of education and cognitive science at the university. “What they basically say is, let’s just focus on minimum-competency gaps.”

NCLB ‘Irrelevant’

The report is the latest in a spate of research to suggest that the nationwide emphasis on bringing the bottom up may be shortchanging the nation’s best and brightest students. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states and school districts get credit for raising test scores overall and for raising the test scores for particular subgroups, such as black and Hispanic students. But there’s no particular incentive to boost the achievement of top performers, many of whom may be hitting the ceiling on their state assessments.

“We know the proficiency bar is set quite low in most states,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the vice president for national programs and policy at the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which produced a 2008 report pointing to lagging academic-improvement rates for top performers. “You certainly do not need to be high-achieving to be proficient.”
Mr. Plucker and co-author Nathan Burroughs said their analysis shows that the now 8-year-old law only continued a trend already under way.

“If we were to blame NCLB, that implies that schools were doing a good job at this before NCLB,” said Mr. Plucker. “I think NCLB is actually irrelevant to this.”

Besides looking at the percentages of students reaching advanced achievement levels on tests, the researchers examined the proportions of students from various groups scoring at the 90th percentile or higher —an analysis that yielded slightly more progress in closing gaps. But the narrowing, in many cases, was due to either declining or stagnating scores for white students or incremental improvements for the more disadvantaged groups. Among the 13 instances of gap-closing that the authors found using the percentile measure, the rate of improvement ranged from 0.25 to 0.75 percentile points a year from 2003 to 2007.

At that rate, the report notes, “it would take 38 years for free-lunch-eligible children to match more affluent children in math at grade 4 and 92 years for [English-language learners] to equal non-ELL students.” High-scoring black students at that grade level would catch up to their white peers in 2107, the report estimates.

The researchers also developed profiles of the “excellence gaps” for each state, which are available on the center’s Web site. Their analysis, however, found little overlap between states making progress in raising student performance and closing performance gaps in one area, such as 8th grade reading or 4th grade math, and those achieving similar success in another.
Mr. Plucker said the findings challenge policymakers’ hope that a rising tide would lift all boats. When a state narrowed gaps at the proficient level on state tests, the analysis showed, it didn’t necessarily follow that the gaps at the top were reduced as well.

To address the gaps among top performers, the report calls on federal, state, and local policymakers to make a more concerted effort to consider the needs of their most able students and to ease policies that keep them from accelerating their learning by starting college early or skipping grades.

“They need to ask how will this specific policy affect our brightest students?” Mr. Plucker said. “And how will it help other students achieve at high levels?”


Anonymous said...

The Fordham Foundation conducted a similar study several years ago and concluded that "closing the gap" in math in many states simply showed that the top achieving students had stagnated, or even regressed. After finding this in their data analysis, they conducted surveys of many teachers and the majority stated that they felt they were short changing many of the high achieving students because they were spending so much of their time in class helping the students who were struggling.

This is a tough issue as all our students deserve the best education we can offer. I suspect the problem becomes more pronounced at middle school because so many students have been promoted who do not have the math and reading skills needed to succeed.

Anonymous said...

Please keep in mind that DeKalb County's High Achiever's program is "watered down". A true High Achiever scores 850 in Reading and Math. Please go to the DOE's website and make certain that you understand the number of questions that students must score correctly on the CRCT just to meet the cutoff score of 800. This will tell you that the standards have been lowered. Additionally it explains the difficulty some students (labeled HA) have when they reach high school.

Anonymous said...

Very interestingly the high achiever/gifted label goes very well with the affluent family gene pool.

Conversely, the low achieving/regular label goes very well with the economically struggling family gene pool.

As a parent of now grown-up high achiever/gifted children, I always found amazing that I was lucky enough to 2 bright kids.

Little did I realize that these kids were being measured by my wife's motivation, by my comfortable income, and the work ethics the children copied from us.

The kids were not nearly as "high achieving" in college! They could not keep "hope".

Don't drink the kool-aid...unless the bell curve research speaks about was a joke.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:30 has a good point

Read "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell (he also wrote "Blink" and "The Tipping Point" - very insightful best sellers) to understand why some people achieve so much and others so little in life.

You will understand the phrase "it takes a village". His premise is that we are not a meritocracy and that none of us arrive where we are without help from others and/or some lucky circumstances in life.

Among other variables, he looks at the role mental ability plays in success. I think you will find his conclusions very interesting. Extremely well researched, well written, and a must read for parents and educators who pre-judge students.

Anonymous said...

I teach middle school and see a lot of students that are labeled "high achievers" because they got lucky on one test.

I would say 85% - 90% of my "HA" students are no better than my general students are level 1 students.

I scored a 1475 on my SAT's in high school. Now remember when I took them 1600 was a perfect score. Does that make me smart? NO. I will be honest. I had to work hard to get the grades I got but I still was no straight A student.

So many parents think that their children are "HA" when really they are not. Also, for gifted. Once they get label in Elementary School that is it. They never really have to prove themselves year after year. We let them get on probabtion many, many times before they lose their label. Of course they will not lose the "HA", "Gifted" label because we as parents push them harder or we just hound the teacher until she or he picks which battles are worth fighting for.

Anonymous said...

I taught Gifted students for many years and loved my work and my students very much. I can truthfully say I looked forward to every day I had the privilege of teaching such amazing children. I taught over 1,000 Gifted students and never lost one out of my classes.

I also had a child designated as Gifted.

As much as I respected their abilities, I stressed to my students that no matter how smart you are there is always someone smarter than you. And that in life much of what you do is not what you want to do, but what you have to do, and that holds true in every profession - doctors, scientists, lawyers, etc. I stressed to my own child the same principles. I told my daughter I would rather have good conduct than good grades, and that respect for others as they were trying to learn was number one on her list.

I keep up with my Gifted students now that they are grown. I continually see that what makes them successful in life is in their conduct towards others as much as their brains.

My daughter - well, she's a lovely, compassionate person and is doing great in her chosen field as a teacher. That's what I'm most proud of.

So if I could say anything to parents of gifted students I would say relax, and don't worry so much about getting them placed in every Gifted class. Believe it or not, they will turn out just fine as long as you instill in them respect for others and themselves.

Cerebration said...

Beautiful comment, Anon. Thanks so much for reminding us what's really important.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:50, I agree. There is so much of life after formal education, that it's silly to make educational achievement the most important thing.

In addition, I see so many kids truly stressed out by trying to live up to what they think their parents expect of them. The parents probably have no such intention - they are just proud of their child and want to see them keep on doing things they are proud of, but the kids see it as dictating their value.

By the time they hit high school and college, some of these kids will just quit trying, turn to harmful things to relieve the stress, or even flame out.

That said, however, I am concerned by the fact that there seems to be a general discounting of the needs of kids with curious minds and a real enjoyment of learning. I don't think we should push them to achieve, but I do think we owe it to them to give them "food" for their hunger. Sometimes, though I despair that our schools in their current configuration can ever do that - these kids need freedom to explore and permission to do it their own way.

Anonymous said...

Heard a rumor that CRCT may be done away with in all but the crucial years (3rd, 5th, 8th, etc) to help with the state's budget crunch. Something else to keep our eyes on.

Anonymous said...

I wish they would do away with the CRCT, a criterion referenced test, completely. The ITBS, a norm referenced test, is much more definitive.

I'm a retired teacher, and I'm appalled what's happened with standardized testing.

Standardized testing was invented to give teachers feedback about students, not to test the effectiveness of teachers.

Analyzing a student's true scores to look for strengths and weaknesses should be the objective of standardized testing. Instead we have "teaching to the test" and teaching students "test taking skills". We must think companies want to hire someone based on their "test taking skills".

Teachers today are forced to focus on getting students to "pass the test", not on teaching the content and critical thinking skills students need to succeed in higher education and in life. Standardized tests should be used to analyze the educational strengths and weaknesses of students and develop lessons accordingly.

High achiever and gifted students are the real losers. Standardized testing used to alert teachers to the particular strengths of a student. With the CRCT and NCLB mess, teachers don't have an incentive to focus on those students. They're too busy "meeting objectives" developed as if students are widgets who need to be mass produced.

Cerebration said...

I'm curious why they haven't done away with the End Of Course Tests. Wasn't the plan to replace them with the graduation test? Now, kids are taking them all! That's a waste - and a lot of stress on kids and teachers.

Anonymous said...

I believe that EOCT is part of Georgia's NCLB proof of meeting AYP. What acronyms!

Seriously though, do you really think the testing companies (emphasis on companies as in profit incentive) would pass up the opportunity to make a buck? You do realize that companies make millions to help students pass the EOCT?
To name a few:
USATestPrep (I actually know the president of this company - very bright technology guy), American Book Company, McGraw Hill, etc.

parentof dekalb said...

many parent do not understand what the dekalb county schools gifted/high achiever means. gifted/high achiever students must qualify through 3 criteria - 1. a higher score on a norm test, 2. a high score on a "cognitive" (abstract abilities test), 3. a teacher rating test. gifted/high achiever are served by a university certified gifted teacher in either by being "pulled out" of their classroom few hours per week for specialized instructions if they remain at their home elementary. or they qualify for specialized magnet schools that require that those scores. those students remain in the program as their standardized scores and grades indicates, of course otherwise they're put on probation.
this is now where the problems begisns. dekalb has started this other program that is school based and has called it "high achievers program." this has caused and anger among some teachers. students' scores starting from kdg are used to determine if they are placed with a teacher who took a "semester seminar" on how to "differentiate" instructions. on each grade level, 2 classes of students are created with all the top scoring students, while the other teachers are left to teach the exceptional ed (special ed) students, others, including of course the more difficult students. this has become a huge problem. their is no data to support this "tracking" of student. it's lop sided. teachers in the 4th grade,and 5th grade are dealing with 30 or more special ed, esol and lower scoring (usually-with poor conduct) students. what a burden, haphazard, confusing, haphazard, unscientific way of governing each school. something must be done to assist principals in organizing schools correctly.