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Federal Opinion

High Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind

By Eduwonkette — June 17, 2008 2 min read

Fordham’s new study on how high achievers have fared under No Child Left Behind is out. (See NYT coverage here.) Here’s the main story:

* While the nation’s lowest-achieving youngsters made rapid gains [on NAEP] from 2000 to 2007, the performance of top students was languid. Children at the 10th percentile of achievement (the bottom 10 percent of students) have shown solid progress in fourth grade reading and math and in eighth grade math since 2000, but those at the 90th percentile have made minimal gains.

* This pattern - big gains for low achievers and lesser ones for high achievers - is associated with the introduction of accountability systems in general, not just NCLB. An analysis of state data from the 1990s shows that states that adopted testing and accountability regimes before NCLB saw similar patterns before NCLB: stronger progress for low achievers than for high achievers.

All of this, of course, should have been expected in a system focused on proficiency rather than growth. And contrary to popular belief, NCLB’s growth model pilot doesn’t allow true value-added models, but is instead based on a “projection model.” Michael Weiss has a great commentary in Ed Week this week on this issue:

In practice, projection models are extremely similar to NCLB’s original status measure. In schools where students enter with high initial achievement levels, the learning gains required to get students on track to become proficient are quite small, while in schools where students enter with low initial achievement levels, the required learning gains to get students on track to become proficient may be unrealistically large. Consequently, under the federal growth-model program, schools are still held to different standards—some must produce large gains while others need only to produce small gains. Both status and projection models require all students to reach a fixed proficiency target regardless of their initial achievement levels. It is because No Child Left Behind’s status model and the growth-model pilot program’s projection models are so similar that very few new schools are making AYP because of “growth” alone.

If Tom Toch’s post over at The Quick and the Ed is any indication, it looks like many factors are coming together to shift the winds on NCLB - both from proficiency to value-added models, and from ignoring the role of out-of-school factors to acknowledging that it is unfair to hold schools solely accountable for them. Said Toch:

What we need to do is find ways to give schools credit for successfully improving the educational performance of the kids they have, by using so-called value-added measures of student performance, and by capturing more than just how well schools teach basic reading and math skills....Yes, we need to hold schools and teachers accountable for their performance....But no, we shouldn’t pretend that poverty has no impact on students. No accountability system can work unless it is credible, and NCLB, as currently crafted, is not.

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