In a New York Times op-ed this week, Tom Loveless and Mike Petrilli claim that gifted students “suffer from benign neglect” since the enactment of NCLB. This should alarm policymakers, educators, parents, grandparents, college consultants… If only it were true, that is. It’s not.
I’m not going to quibble about their data (even though it’s not quite accurate) because the trend they point out is indisputable — students at the academic bottom are gaining faster than their classmates at the top. Who are also gaining — just not as fast. I do take exception to their characterization of the top tier growth as “relatively little progress.” Really? Let’s look at that data. Loveless and Petrilli cite 8th grade NAEP scores as evidence.
[T]he 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.
Just five points? That still translates to roughly three to four months’ progress over six years. In fact, the actual gains at the top end, according to NAEP, were seven points over this period (see graph). Not bad in my book. Had Loveless and Petrilli used 4th grade math data instead of 8th, they would have shown even larger gains at both ends. They could have also looked back further in time and seen that the rate of growth among our top achievers has been fairly steady for more than a decade.
Of course we should be concerned with the performance of all our students, low- and high-achievers alike. And we should never be satisfied with “good enough.” But what purpose does it serve to get folks all excited over a supposed new education crisis? Truthfully, the news in this case at least is pretty darned good. — Patte Barth