Monday, September 28, 2009

Gingrich, Sharpton and Duncan road show: Longer school days

The idea of Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton going on tour together boggles the mind. (Though I do recall having seen Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary do a psycho/schizo duet back in the 80s.). But apparently this is serious and includes Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education.

Well the first stop on the tour is in Philadelphia tomorrow (September 29, 2009); and Duncan, possibly prompted by being surrounded with people who don't hesitate to speak their minds, has advocated for longer school days. As a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer states

Six hours a day just doesn't cut it, said Duncan, who comes to town tomorrow to tour two city schools and meet with local education officials. Our school calendar's based on a 19th century agrarian economy. I'm sure there weren't too many kids in Philadelphia working in their parents' fields this summer.

This simple truth points to one of the most obvious things we can do to improve education in the US. We know that children spend more time in school each year in other OECD countries. And we know that children (particular poor children) are helped by longer school days and a longer school year. And if I didn't have to work on my homework, I would look up the sources for my assertions here.

As a prospective teacher, it is not in my personal interest to have longer school days and a longer school year. I'd love to come up with an excuse to advocate against these; but I can't. The facts (which I really will try to cite in an update) are clear. When so many ideas for improving education in America have mixed research behind them, it is nice to have something that is so clear cut.

I need to return to my teacher training homework now; so this posting stops here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Promising noises from the Secretary of Education

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor and made some very promising remarks regarding NCLB in my opinion. There was nothing even approximating specifics, but I think that he hit on a key insight:

[Duncan] hopes to essentially turn the law on its head. The Bush administration’s legislation, he says, kept the goals loose but the steps tight. He hopes instead to see a law that keeps the goals tight but the steps loose.

Here Duncan is referring to the fact that NCLB very tightly monitors how each state meets its own (loose) standards. These can lead to what I and others have called a race to the bottom between states, particularly when states work to avoid comparison of their education standards.

Exactly how an overhaul of NCLB will tighten or provide some uniformity of the goals is not something I know. I can imagine a range of mechanisms each with their own advantages and problems.

Set a national curriculum
The problems with this are legion. I won't dwell on them other than to say there is little reason to believe that the federal government would do a better job at this than even the worst of our fifty states.
Provide interstate comparisons to parents
When parents get accountability information about their child's school and their child's test scores, simply have these compared to national norms. If state officials can no longer hide their state's performance from parents, that might be enough to get states to start racing to the top. A difficulty with this is that it may require even more testing of students using a nationally normed test. There may be technical ways to get comparable data that won't involve more testing, but it will take some thinking about. Another difficulty with this approach is that it the parental pressure it generates will be insufficient to do the job. Finally, we know that it is parents in the upper middle class who exert the most political pressure, but even in lagging states their children will probably be performing above the national norm.

Some combination of those and other things may be part of what gets proposed. I eagerly await the plan. As for loosening the controls on exactly how states meet the (tighter) goals I can't even begin to speculate. From the philosophical point of view, Duncan's remarks seem very promising and sensible. Although I have no idea of how to achieve this, I am looking forward to more specific announcement.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thinking about assessment

The education literature likes to make a distinction between assessment for learning and assessment of learning. The distinction is, in my view, a necessary insight, but the way that it is conceived is both too limiting and prone to confusion. In this rant I am going present a somewhat richer framework for discussing different types of assessment for different purposes.

Where I'm coming from

As I've mentioned before, I am training to be a high school math teacher, and I am enrolled in what I consider to be an outstanding program through Collin College. I must confess that when I signed up for the program, I, in my arrogance, did not think that I would learn much. I am pleased to report that I was dead wrong. I won't go into why I was wrong, but I will say that I go to bed thinking about the ideas that come up from class discussion and readings and I wake up thinking about them. I remain (very) critical of some of the argumentation and scholarship in the readings, but it is extremely helpful for me to read them. I'm gobbling them up and loving it.

I have been, and remain, highly critical of the kinds of testing and incentive systems that have been set up by NCLB even though I fully support the goal of keeping schools and districts accountable for how well they serve all students, particularly the ones who are at risk of being left behind. Please see my previous posts on the matter (and more to come). NCLB does appear to be reaching that stated goal but it distorts the educational system as a whole and hinders progress in other important areas. But this essay is about assessment (testing and similar things). Whether you are a critic or supporter of NCLB you will agree that it is has greatly intensified the amount and importance of (standardized) testing in schools.

The Educators' Complaint

The education literature makes a distinction between assessment of learning and assessment for learning. A similar distinction is also called summative assessment and formative assessment. I will not attempt to give a full definition of these here. I don't think that the definitions in the literature bear up under close inspection, and the fuller the definition the less enlightening it is. Instead here is the rough idea through examples. Assessment of includes things like the TAKS, end of term exams, and major examinations that determine a student's grade. Assessment for learning is the on-going assessment that teachers engage while teaching. These include asking questions of the class, seeing what sorts of questions students ask. These are considered for learning because they help the teacher adapt teaching to the particular student.

The problem with our increased emphasis on assessment of learning is that most of that assessment isn't pedagogically useful. Some even argue that it is harmful in and of itself beyond the misdirection of resources (although I have my doubts about that claim). NCLB is a reality (which really does appear to be meeting its narrow, but important, goals), but the concern among educators is that it leads to too much pedagogically useless assessment. I agree, but I think that we are talking about assessment in a far too limiting framework.

Distinguishing distinctions

When we look at assessment, and try to categorize it, I think that we need to be looking at two dimensions, instead of the one-dimensional approach in the of-for distinction. We need to ask

  1. What is the form of the assessment?
  2. What is the purpose of the assessment?

The current discussion seems to think that all standardized tests (form) serve only to assess what a student has learned and not to adjust teaching (purpose), while all of the less formal (form) assessments are only used to adjust teaching (purpose). Certainly there is a strong connection between form and function, but when looking at assessment it will be useful to look at these along these two not-quite-independent dimensions.

Three purposes

When it comes to considering the various purposes of assessment I think that it is helpful to consider three separate purposes, not just the two in the existing conceptualization.

  1. Adjusting: to help adjust teaching to the needs of the particular student
  2. Grading: to provide feedback to student and family, to assign grades and work as an incentive
  3. Accounting: to evaluate the teaching of the teacher, school, district.

Accounting is what we see in the testing that follows from NCLB. It is about rating and evaluating schools and districts (and within districts it will be used to evaluate teachers). It is the school administrators who have the most to gain or lose by these test results. And they are typically done at the end of the school year. Although students who fail the test will be intensively tutored so that they will pass a retake, these tests are not used to help students directly.

Grading is typically the assessments that a course grade is based upon. These are presented to parents and students. These become part of a student's record and are intended to indicate how much the student learned. Of course these will also feed back on how a particular student is taught. A teacher can learn from these that a student is not meeting expectations and so can look for ways to help the student. One characteristic of grading assessment is that it (almost) never goes beyond what has been taught in class.

Adjusting is used primarily to help determine how to teach a particular student. These can range from everyday queries while teaching to see if students are getting it or not. But at the other extreme these can be the kinds of evaluations that are used to determine whether a student should be in a gifted and talented program or in special education. Those typically involve highly formalized exams, but are used exclusively for determining how best to teach an individual student. Homework may be part of a student's grade (usually to get them to do it), but is used primarily as a frequent check of whether something needs to be retaught.

Any particular assessment can (and often) will serve multiple purposes. But when looking at any particular assessment it is useful to keep those three purposes in mind.

Form follows function except for when it doesn't

If you've been talking about the differences between similes and metaphors in class you may ask for examples to help with the learning that day (adjusting). But you may also ask for examples of each on an end of term examination (grading). So the same form can be used for different purposes in different contexts. I've praised the MAP testing that PISD does. But I honestly don't know what they use it for. I would hope that they use it to help differentiate teaching (adjusting), but it may be used primarily to track teacher performance (accounting). So here is a particular standardized test administered exactly the same way could be used for entirely different purposes.

Some forms of assessment really are single purpose. Some like the Texas TAKS tests can't be used for much other than accounting, and then only a limited type. The test is designed to distinguish between students who have acquired the basic knowledge expected for the grade level from those who have not. It doesn't do a very good job of discriminating between students at the high end or very low end. It is hard for me to imagine a set of exams that is more narrowly focused on one purpose.

With understanding come solutions

This understanding of purposes can bring real, practical, recommendations. The TAKS serves little direct pedagogical purpose other than accounting, we could save a great deal of time and money (that could then go to actually improving education) by sampling. Not every student needs to take the TAKS in every subject. Consider fifth grade TAKS requirements. Students take Reading, Math and Science. Not counting make-ups and such, that takes three full days for the students' to complete. But if the goal is to measure a schools' performance, then have one third of the students take Reading, one third Math, and one third Science. Students would be randomly assigned with neither student nor school staff knowing which student gets which test until test day. All of the tests can then be given on the same day.

I believe that the framework I've introduced above, first separating form from purpose and then distinguishing three separate purposes for assessment, allows for a more useful discussion of assessment than is common. At least it helps me think about these things more carefully, and I hope it does the same for any readers I might have.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Murder of James Poullion

The New York Times reports on the murder of an abortion opponent. Yes, that's right an abortion opponent was murdered, apparently because of his protests. This is news in the man bites dog sense. We are not surprised when an abortion supporter is murdered for position, but I was gobsmacked to read of this case.

Although this goes without saying, I will say it anyway. I absolutely condemn this murder and anything like it. The man charged with the murder should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for his terrible crime.

With that said, it is unclear the extent to which James Poullion was murdered for his views on abortion or because he made a persistent nuisance of himself. Of course the latter doesn't justify murder, but it might help us understand the motives of the killer.

Like many protesters for any cause, Poullion sought attention and controversy. He would occasionally stake out a position at a Farmer's Market and cuss customers out. Poullion's protests were loud, gory, and generally obnoxious. He appeared to be getting more provocative as time went on, but always staying (just) within the law. The assistant prosecutor is reported by the Times to have said that the suspect was annoyed by Mr. Pouillion's protests, especially when they were near schools.

So while I unequivocally condemn the murder, I don't think that he was so much murdered because of his views, but because of his protesting style. Neither is any justification for murder, but we should be cautious about concluding that abortion supporters are just as like to murder their opposition as abortion opponents are.

Asymmetry of passion

We need to recognize that there is a fundamental asymmetry between supporters of legalized abortion and opponents. Abortion opponents (at least in their rhetoric) treat abortion as murder. For them the legal system and the courts have enabled mass systematic murder with no recourse within the legal system to stop or bring those perceived murderers to justice. While I'm offering no justification, it is not too difficult to imagine how a few people with those beliefs could turn to violence.

For supporters of legalized abortion (like me), there is no heinous crime that our opponents are involved in. We think that our opponents are wrong, and that much harm would be done if they got their way. But only though the most elastic stretches of hyperbole could we consider them as supporters of systematic murder. To me, opponents of legal abortion are not evil or criminal. They are not sinful or inhuman monsters. They are merely mistaken. It is this asymmetry that makes it so hard for me to belive that Pouillion was murdered because of his views on abortion.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Congratulations: I may be wrong

I have been ranting (particularly here and here) that Texas' implementation of NCLB is doing a disservice to above average students. I am perplexed, but delighted, to report evidence that I have been wrong. Apparently, Texas students have been making remarkable gains in passing Advanced Placement exams.

The TEA has reported strong gains in AP pass rates, and the gains among some minority groups are truly spectacular. Being the cynic that I am, I had first assumed that the results were a consequence of fewer students taking the exams. But, according to the report, these gains while the number of students taking the exams has increased. So this positive result does not (immediately) look like the result of statistical manipulation.

My skepticism remains, and there are a few things to check out. But at the moment we have some good news, and I will take it as such.

It will be interesting to learn how these gains were distributed throughout the State. Do they come from a few school districts, and are those districts doing something unusual? If anyone knows where I can get this data, please let me know.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Schools are not a battleground

I have expressed in my posts here numerous criticisms of parts of our public education system. I have also expressed views about religion (I'm an atheist) that many people in my community would find anathema. At the same time, I am training to be a high school math teacher here in north Texas. Naturally, this can raise some legitimate concerns among potential colleagues, employers and student families when I start working. The goal of this post is the persuade even those who oppose everything I've stood for here that they have nothing to worry about with me in the classroom.

Why I want to teach

First of all my reasons for going into teaching are that I love explaining things and transferring knowledge. I believe that education is important in our society to help deliver on the promise of equal opportunity. Slightly more controversially I believe that for democracy to work the public needs to be educated to at least the point where they can meaningfully participate in the decisions we face. And even more controversially, I believe that public education plays an assimilatory role, preventing extreme fragmentation of society along ethnic, religious or linguistic lines. But if one sentence could sum up the feelings that drive me to be a teacher it would be a line from an old song:

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow, they will learn more than I'll ever know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. —Louis Armstrong

But stepping down from those lofty reasons, my job as a math teacher will be to teach math. I am one of those weirdos who really loves math. But I also love history, science and language and literature. I love thinking and ideas. But given my skills and what needs there are to fill, I can make the biggest contribution by teaching math. Teaching math will be my job and my mission.

Make things easier, not harder

Anyone who cares deeply about education, and I hope that that is true of every teacher, will have strong opinions about how we do things. Some of those opinions will include disagreements. But it helps no one to stir up trouble just to make a point. It only makes it harder for everyone to do their job.

A few individuals with their own political or religious agendas like to fight their battles in the schools. Whether it is people who object to the addition of under God to the Pledge of Allegiance or people who want school led prayer, they oughtn't make things harder for schools to do their jobs. I have little sympathy for those people, even where I might agree with their cause in principle. Ideally, I would like to see the Pledge restored to its original form, but I'm not going to make a fuss about it. Forcing school districts to spend real time and real money fighting a largely symbolic battle is destructive to our educational goals, angers people, and needlessly divides our community.

My concerns about the impacts of accountability requirements will not stop me from doing my job and focusing my efforts where state law and policy tell me to focus my efforts. Forgive me for waxing philosophical again, but there is much to learn from understanding where various policies come from. The policies come from people who were elected to make those policies or from people who were appointed by those elected. I may, on occasion, think that I know better then those people, but my conceit does not entitle me to defy those policies with which I disagree. Just as nobody should pick and choose which laws they obey based on whether they like those laws (otherwise why have laws?), I won't cherrie pick those policies which I like.

If I sign a contract with a school or a school district, I do so willingly and see it as a commitment to upholding my end of the contract. That means following their rules. It would be dishonest to sign a contract with the intention of doing anything other than accepting their policies. This point is point is very important. It is actually something that I thought about a great deal before enrolling in a teacher training program, but by seeking to be a teacher I have firmly decided that the value of doing so greatly outweighs the distaste for implementing a few policies I may not like.

In and out of the classroom

I can see no reason to ever mention my religious or political views in the classroom or to students. There are some things about myself that if expressed in the capacity as a teacher would be inappropriate. My religious and political views certainly fall into that category. However, anyone reading these blog postings (if anyone actually is) will realize that my political, social, and religious views are emphatically not secret. I am happy to share them with anyone (outside of my role as a teacher) who asks.

By seeking out my postings or searching for my musings you are asking me what I think. I am not pushing or advertising my views. I am not addressing a captive audience, and I am absolutely not using a school, classroom, or any authority I might have as a teacher to express my views. By coming here, you have asked me what I think.

Student discovery

I cannot prevent my students from doing the same sort of search or link following that brought you to my postings. I will do nothing whatsoever to encourage them to find this, but that won't stop the student who decides to google all their teachers. So some students will learn my views on politics, social matters and religion. This isn't the problem it might seem.

First of all, I like math, and that will be made known to all of my students. This already makes me a kook in the eyes of many of them. So if I have other kooky ideas, that should come as no surprise. And having one kooky teacher who is an atheist will be balanced out by having a dozen others who have more conventional views. I would be over-estimating my status and influence if I thought that students discovering what my views are would change their views.

I also don't think that I should be singled out for making my opinions available on line. If you are active in your church or a civic organization, if you have ever contributed to a political campaign or are registered to vote for a particular party, then your religious and political views are available to anyone who knows how to search the Internet. You may not have gone into detail about your views, but much will be guessed from your affiliations. Should everyone who works for the public schools try to eradicate all public traces of their views on religion or politics? That would be both unwise and impossible.

Deletion and pseudonyms

Should I remove my postings on controversial matters from the sites I control (this blog and Well, I could, but I have a posting history that goes back to 1986, and I do not have the ability to have everything I've said over the decades removed from where they can be searched. And given how my views, approaches, and spelling have changed over the past 20 years, I would much rather have someone read my more recent comments than my older ones. So if I attempt to remove what I can, then what is left paints a very distorted picture of my views. In truth there is no delete button on the Internet.

I should also make it clear that when I first became active on the Internet, we didn't use pseudonyms. The usernames under which we posted were the usernames that we had on some mainframe computer and were not under our control. Pseudonyms were possible, with effort and resources, but rare. So from the beginning I've posted under my own name. The other problem with pseudonyms is that they are very rarely anonymous. It is possible to operate truly anonymously on the net, but it is difficult. (Most people who think that they are operating anonymously are not.)

It is also not my style to hide from what I say. It would feel dishonest writing under a pseudonym. I should not feel embarrassed by what I say in a public arena. Of course over the decades I've said plenty of things that I'm embarrassed by, and maybe years from now I'll be embarrassed by what I write now. Nonetheless, I hope that my openness about my views and the explanation I've given above should make it clear that my various musings on the Internet will not interfere with my teaching.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

No Child Gets Ahead - The evidence

In April I wrote a piece No Child Gets Ahead in which I argued that current implementations (and particularly in Texas) of the No Child Left Behind program is detrimental to the interests of the above average student. Let me also remind everyone that I consider the goals of NCLB laudable and important. Again, see that earlier rant for a defense of those goals.

Now there is increasing evidence that I am correct. Brighter students are not advancing at the rate one might normally expect of them. This was discussed in a New York Times opinion piece titled Smart Child Left Behind on August 28, 2009. The authors, Tom Loveless and Micheal Petrilli, refer at first to report by the Center for Educational Policy published in June 2009.

The Rosy CEP report

The CEP report asks the question in its title, Is the emphasis on proficiency shortchanging higher- and lower-achieving students? Their answer is no. But Loveless and Petrilli argue that the CEP's report is deeply flawed. After reading the report, I entirely agree that it is broken beyond repair. The most egregious error in that study is the exclusive use of state proficiency test scores. State proficiency tests are designed to measure skill at the grade proficiency level. They never test anything above grade level (which is where advanced students are). My anecdotal experience is that pretty much everyone in my daughter's gifted and talented program hit the ceiling (score 100%) of the state TAKS tests. State proficiency tests are not designed to measure learning beyond the grade level proficiency levels, and simply don't work to measure learning for the high level students. The CEP report pretty much spells out the flaw without realizing it

The main measure of student achievement for this study consists of data from the state tests in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics used for NCLB accountability. Although no large-scale test provides a complete picture of student achievement, we have analyzed state test results because these tests are given to nearly all students in a state, are intended to reflect each state’s academic content standards, and are designed to assess whether students have met their states’ expectations for performance at a particular grade level. [Emphasis mine.]

It appears that the CEP report measures success in a state by looking at state results in terms of the percentage of students (with each state) scoring proficient or above. This notion of counting the number of students who exceed a certain (minimal) standard as a way of seeing whether you are serving the higher performing students is entirely missing the point of the exercise. The question we are asking is Does the way we measure school success shortchange the top students?. The CEP's answer appears to be, Well if we count success according to the way NCLB measure it, then we have success..

Another astounding flaw in the CEP analysis is their use of states as their level of analysis. For them, a gain in a small state completely off sets a lose in a large state, even if it means a decline for millions of more students than there is a gain for. This is truly blushworthy error. even though they fully acknowledge it (on page 18). I could go on. These are not minor technical quibbles. These problems completely and utterly undermine the CEP conclusions.

Why worry

Before I go on to cite the evidence for my assertion that NCLB does shortchange the better students, let me spell out why I and so many others worry that it would do exactly that. I've outlined these reasons in my earlier rant and when combined with the actual level of these proficiency standards (see my rants, Race to the Bottom and No Comparison) there really is a concern. As I said before, people and systems do respond to incentive systems, so we should look very clearly at what we incentivize.

Two Scenarios

The NCLB incentive system rewards schools and districts for the number of students who pass (minimal) proficiency tests. The margin of passing or failing (how high above or below the passing cut-off) counts for nothing. Imagine a class with three students: Alice, Bob, and Charlie. And suppose that the proficiency level is considered met if a student scores a 70 on the crucial test. (Obviously I'm grossly simplifying the examples for the purposes of illustration.)

Now consider scenario 1: Alice scores a 78 and passes. Bob scores and 70 and passes, Charlie scores a 50 and fails. In this scenario, the class has two passes and one failure. That is what will be counted in determining the school's, district's, and (probably) teacher's rating.

Now consider scenario 2: Alice scores a 95 and passes, Bob scores a 69 and fails, Charlie scores a 62 and fails. This class has one pass and two failures. The school, district, and teacher will be marked down severely for this.

All of the incentives (and they are powerful incentives) of NCLB push for scenario 2 above scenario 1. But let's look which class is serving the students better. Both Alice and Charlie do much better in scenario 1 than they do in scenario 2. While Bob does slightly worse in scenario 1 then in 2.

Of course you may object that I could have set up an example where the class that did better on NCLB criteria would also be the one that we would all agree better served the students. But my example illustrates real choices that schools and teachers make every day.

Suppose that you are a teacher and you are confident that Alice will pass the exam with little extra effort from you. With more effort from you, she might learn a great deal, but she is already on a clear target to pass the exam. And suppose that Bob is a student who looks like he will pass the exam, but only if you put extra effort into preparing him. Finally, as a teacher, with all of your pre-tests and such, you determine that even with an extraordinary effort on your part, Charlie is unlikely to pass the exam. If you want to keep your job, and the school wants to keep property values high in its district, then you will focus your effort on Bob.

Response to Response to Intervention

In the excellent teacher training program that I am currently enrolled in, we have been studying the mechanisms by which we identify and help the struggling student, Bob, before he falls too far behind. It is a program (or framework) called Response to Intervention (RtI). It really looks like it should be effective at identifying students like Bob earlier and getting the teacher to devote more time to Bob's needs. But of course any additional time spent on Bob will be time taken away from Alice and Charlie (unless additional staff are provided or the school day is lengthened).

This is one thing that people always seem to forget. Anyone who says that we need to spend more time doing X (where X is "with struggling students", "in the library", "teaching math", "practicing bus evacuations", "taking tests", etc) needs to remember that that means spending less time doing something else. This applies to money as well as time. An additional dollar spent on X is a dollar taken away from something else. It's easy to say what we should spend more time or money on, but it's very hard to answer the question of where that time or money comes from.

How to find out

I've already explained that if we want to test whether the incentives set up by NCLB create a disservice to above average students, we can't measure that by counting how many states have an increase in the number of students reaching the proficient level in that state. So how do we check? First of all we will need to use measures that are (a) comparable across states, and (b) which accurately measure the skills of the above average student. Ideally, we would like to have (c) where the progress of individual students from year to year is measured.

Getting data that is comparable across states is difficult. NCLB allows each state to set its own minimum and proficient standards. Because both politicians and educators like to be able to boast about how well their students are doing, there is pressure to set these standards low. (There are also some good reasons to set them low.) As a consequence of this, there is an incentive to shy away from mechanisms that allow state standards to be compared with one another or have students from one state compared with those of another. (See my earlier rant, No Comparison.)

We also need achievement results that don't suffer from a ceiling effect. That is, it should assess the full range of student achievement including those students near the top. This can be difficult for a number of reasons. First of all, the state assessments for NCLB are completely unsuited for this; so any tests would need to be in addition to those required for NCLB. Secondly, most testing to see whether students have learned the material presented in class; thus they rarely can test students who are above grade level.

Fortunately, there have been an number of attempts to collect such data. In an earlier post, I discussed the Measure of Academic Progress produced by the Northwest Evaluation Association. This time, I will be looking at The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2007 produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (part of the US Department of Education). They developed a scale which should include most advanced students, and sampled school children from across the country. Details of their method can be found in the report. For our purposes, merely showing a chart on page 9 of their report should make the point.

nations report card writing 2007-page9.jpg

Before NCLB went into effect nation wide (2002) there was no growth in 8th grade writing skills at the lowest levels, while there were gains at the highest level. After NCLB went into effect, there were gains significant at the lowest levels and stagnation at the upper levels. Now I admit that I did troll through reports to find the most dramatic example. But for all grades studied and in all areas we find that NCLB has led wonderful gains at the lower levels. These are important and valued achievements. At the same time, it has lead to a flattening of growth at the higher levels.

In all fairness?

As I've said elsewhere, gains in one place often have costs elsewhere. If we have to have a trade off of improvements for the top students or improvements for the bottom students, maybe we are redressing a prior imbalance by focussing on the struggling student. I will address this issue in a later post. Here I will say that the situation before NCLB was destructive and unjust, with the below average abandoned. NCLB needs to be credited with fixing that. But the current situation, in which the above average student is ignored by the educational system, is little better. But whether you think that the current situation is right or wrong, I hope that everyone realizes that it does shortchange the above average students. In future posts, I will try to elaborate on how I think we can develop an accountability system that establishes incentives which serve all students.