High Achievers Are Being Left Behind

At a meeting in June my principal discussed the efforts of our school in narrowing the achievement gap (such a cliched term nowadays). Specifically, the gains of the lower end students were highlighted. An obvious upward trend could be seen. But, the high achievers basically showed no change.

I mentioned at the meeting that this should surprise no one. We have eliminated electives, increased high achievers’ class sizes, and put the vast majority of our funding into the lowest level courses. Of course, a silence ensured until someone said something to the effect of “but the gap is narrowing.” My question, then as now, is “to what detriment?” Taking from Peter to pay Paul does not help Peter.

Well, a Washington Post article by Jay Mathews contains information from a Fordham Institute study showing this same trend nationally. Fordham Institute scholar Tom Loveless finds that:

a gap is narrowing because the scores of low-performing students are rising significantly but the scores of high-performing students are either flat or not rising much…The narrowing of test score gaps, although an important accomplishment,” Loveless writes, should not “overshadow the languid performance trends of high-achieving students…Their test scores are not being harmed during the NCLB era, but they are not flourishing either. Gaps are narrowing because the gains of low-achieving students are outstripping those of high achievers by a factor of two or three to one.

I would take issue with Loveless’ assertion that high achievers’ “test scores are not being harmed” since most standardized tests are already below the level of this population and not pushing these students as we do the lower level students seems disingenuous at a minimum and duplicitous at a maximum. Too often I hear that we need to raise our scores to get off AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) sanctions; however, this means playing a numbers game where the focus is on getting kids to pass the state test (the WASL) and virtually ignoring the rest.

My school’s administrators now have discovered a small piece of NCLB which says a school can escape AYP sanctions by raising attendance rates (by 10%, I believe) and lowering failures by the same rate. This helps mitigate the damage done by the plateaued state test scores we are seeing at my school.

The conversations are now two-fold: 1) getting kids to pass the state test and 2) getting teachers to find alternative means of helping students pass classes.

To be clear, I believe both are admirable goals worthy of accomplishing but not to the detriment of another population of students. How do we help the struggling students without taking away from the successful?

3 thoughts on “High Achievers Are Being Left Behind

  1. Clix

    When you say “the high achievers showed no change,” do you mean that the students’ ability levels did not improve? That they essentially ‘wasted’ the year and gained no skills or knowledge? (Such as a 90% on a 10th-grade exam and a … I dunno, a 70% on a 11th grade exam, indicating that they are stuck at the same ability level)

    Or do you mean that they have not improved more this year than they have in previous years? (90% on the 10th-grade exam and 90% on the 11th-grade exam)

    I hope this is clear. It makes sense in my head, but I just got up from a nap. 😉

  2. Ms. P.

    I am in agreement with you that the higher achieving students are not being fully served by education. I think part of the problem is the fact that these kids get lumped into classes with other students that are significantly below their level. It is very difficult for a teacher to meet the needs of so many different learning levels in the same class. This past year, I had a 3rd grade class of students with abilities ranging from Kindergarten to 7th grade. All of these students are capable of learning and did make good progress, but I don’t think I helped my GT kids achieve as much as they could have if I had been able to focus more on their needs.

    I think that in our efforts to get fairer treatment for low achieving students, we forgot along the way that high achieving ones are Special Ed also, just on the other end of the spectrum.

  3. drpezz Post author


    The scores on the state test have not changed for the high achievers for three years. When we break the overall scores on the state test we see 1) low level learners have risen quite a bit, 2) middle level learners have actually dropped slightly, and 3) high level achievers have stagnated.

    The school receives no extra bump or escape from AYP with the upper level scores, so they are essentially ignored in favor of improving low level learner scores. It’s just a numbers game, somewhat farcical.


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