Top Students’ Performance ‘Unremarkable,’ Study Says

By Robert Rothman — June 05, 1991 2 min read

Washington--Although the country’s top-performing students appear to be succeeding in college, there are few high achievers in elementary and secondary schools, and their level of performance is “unremarkable,” a study by the Educational Testing Service has found.

“On the one hand, our higher-education system seems to be the envy of the world,” Paul E. Barton, director of the ETS’s policy-information center, which prepared the report, said at a press conference here. “More and more foreign students are coming here to get their degrees.” On the other hand, in the K-12 system,” he added, “there are so few students at the top of achievement levels, and this top itself is unremarkable. And where we do have talent in the pipeline, it leaks as it flows to the higher-education system.”

Analyzing a range of data on student performance from elementary school through graduate school, the report found that only one in six 4th graders are at the top level of achievement in reading, and one in five are at the top level in mathematics.

“The off-the-top allocation,” he continued, “is simply a response to the dilemma created after the Supreme Court’s decision in Felton.”

Sister Mary Ann Eckhoff, superintendent for education of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, said she was happy with the decision. If the extra costs of complying with Felton were not deducted from the top of the state’s Chapter 1 allocation, she asserted, “there would simply be no funding left for the program in our schools.”

On the use of mobile classrooms on church property, the lower court had said that such vans could be parked on public property, even if they were directly adjacent to the religious school. But they could not be parked on church property, the district judge ruled, because they would be seen as an “annex to the mission of the church.”

However, a majority of the appeals panel said the Supreme Court’s concern in Felton was that public-school teachers were entering a “pervasively sectarian” environment to deliver Chapter 1 services. The mobile vans in the Missouri case are operated by a private company contracted with by the U.S. Education Department under a “state bypass” arrangement, which allows the federal government to arrange for such services directly in cases where state law or local circumstances prevent channeling the funds through the state or local education agency.The appeals panel found that be cause the vans are driven off the church-school property each day and are fully controlled by the private contractor, “we are convinced that the services are provided in a religiously neutral atmosphere and the units do not operate as ‘annexes’ of the public schools.”

Judge C. Arlen Beam disagreed in a brief dissent, arguing that High L Court precedent calls for any class room in which church-school students are taught with public funds to be at a “neutral site.” That, he said, would exclude vans either on the premises or at the curb of a church school.

Several other lawsuits affecting the Chapter 1 program are ongoing.

Americans United is backing the plaintiffs in several of the suits, including one in Kentucky that has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In L that case, Barnes v. Cavazos, a federal district court also struck down the off-the-top regulation.

A federal judge in San Francisco last month upheld the off-the-top L rule in yet another case backed by Americans United. And a federal L judge in Chicago is expected to rule soon in a suit filed by the school district there that challenges the rule.

A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 1991 edition of Education Week as Top Students’ Performance ‘Unremarkable,’ Study Says