CAP Experts Dismantle the Right’s Alarmist Rhetoric Around High-Performing Students

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–October 14, 2011.  Today the Center for American Progress released a column dismantling claims that federal school accountability efforts are hurting our nation’s best and brightest students.

A recent report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute claimed that the nation’s efforts to close achievement gaps by focusing on improving the test scores of our lowest-performing students may be coming at the expense of the students who score in the top 10 percent on standardized tests.

The Fordham research tracked individual students over time from school year 2005 to 2010 and found that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their performance and often do not improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average peers. While this is an issue, Ulrich Boser and Diana Epstein, authors of the CAP column, explain that there are a number of problems with both the study and the conclusions that are flying around the pundit-sphere. These problems include:

  1. Fordham claimed that the federal No Child Left Behind law might have caused high-flying students to do worse over time. All of Fordham’s data, however, came from the post-NCLB time period and without a pre-NCLB comparison, there is no way to make a claim that NCLB caused the decline.
  2. The report fails to acknowledge the true consequences of poverty on student achievement. The Fordham researchers note that “high achievers in high-poverty schools grew slightly less than those in low-poverty schools,” but use this finding to argue that poverty is not a strong predictor of student progress. Ample evidence proves, however, that low-income children need more resources in order to overcome the disadvantages they bring with them to school.
  3. A broader look at the data suggests that the nation’s top students have actually been gaining ground in a number of areas. For example, from 2000 to 2009, the percentage of eighth graders scoring at the highest level in math jumped 3 percentage points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“Looking forward, we believe that states should set both annual achievement goals and gap-closing goals for all students,” wrote Boser and Epstein. “We also believe that states need to set college and career-ready standards for all students so that the discussion around reform is ultimately not about gaps but about success for all students regardless of their family backgrounds. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace for talent, we need all our students to be achieving at high levels.”

Read the column