Friday, August 28, 2009

There's no excuse for success

This op-ed piece in the New York Times is quite confusing. To begin with, the piece is titled "Smart Child Left Behind," but begins by summarizing the conclusions of a new study:
Not only is [the No Child Left Behind act] having its intended effect — bettering the performance of low-achieving students — it is raising test scores for top students too. . . .

The new study, by the independent Center on Education Policy, showed that more students are reaching the “advanced” level on state tests now than in 2002. This led the authors to conclude that there is little evidence that high-achieving students have been shortchanged.
The article then takes exception to the study's conclusions, criticizing the study's methodology. Fair enough. I don't know enough about it to take that on.

However, the preferred data the article points to seems consistent with the data being criticized. The authors themselves report that high-end kinds are continuing to make progress:
High-achieving students might be making incremental progress — but is this new? If they were making similar gains before 2002, then might recent progress have nothing to do with No Child Left Behind?
This is bewildering. The stated premise of the article is to examine whether high-end kids are being "left behind" due to NCLB's emphasis on closing the achievement gap. If, as the authors admit, high-end kids are improving at the same rate as they were before, it seems the study in question was correct in concluding "there is little evidence that high-achieving students have been shortchanged."

I guess the point is supposed to be that high-end kids should be improving at an even faster rate under NCLB. But that's an unreal expectation given that the purpose of NCLB was to close the achievement gap. That is has done so, while allowing high-end kids to maintain their rate of growth is rather remarkable and speaks well of the program.

The article continues:
For example, in eighth-grade math, the lowest-achieving students made 13 points of progress on the national-assessment scale from 2000 to 2007 — roughly the equivalent of a whole grade. Top students, however, gained just five points.
That's called closing the achievement gap, and it is precisely what NCLB was designed to do! As an aside, the outcome is exactly what common sense might predict. Kids at the lower end have much more room to improve, so we would expect them to show a large improvement relative to kids that are already in the upper echelon.

Bizarrely, the authors conclude by lamenting the "tens of thousands of high achievers who are black, Hispanic or poor" who are "excelling at their studies, often against great odds" whose educational needs aren't being addressed. So it's not enough that NCLB is doing what it was designed to do, help poor black and Hispanic kids get a better education. It's still a failure in the eyes of these authors because high-end kids -- no, wait. Not all high-end kids, but specifically high-end kids who are black, Hispanic, and poor -- are only improving at the same rate as before.

I'll grant that we need to keep working to help all kids improve academically, but c'mon guys, this is a good thing. Stop peeing int he punch bowl.

Truly a strange article.

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