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STALLED IN SECONDARY: On Third Anniversary of NCLB, New Report Finds Little Improvement Among Middle and High School Students

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"For far too long, we've been operating on this notion that education is like inoculation-that if we get it right for kids in those early years, we can prevent later school failure," Haycock said.

According to a new report from the Education Trust, student achievement in reading and math at the high school level, after two years of NCLB implementation, has not kept up with increases at the elementary school level. The report, Stalled in Secondary: Student Achievement Lags in Middle Grades and High School, found that too many states are not making progress in closing achievement gaps.

Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, said that the report should not surprise anyone. “Over the years, policymakers and educators have focused energy and resources on the elementary grades,” she said. “And proportionately more elementary schools receive Title I funds and are thus more directly affected by NCLB’s resources and accountability provisions.”

As the chart below shows, the report found the most progress in middle school math, where twenty-four of twenty-eight states saw improved overall performance. In middle school reading, however, overall achievement rose in only sixteen of twenty-seven states. At the high school level, while eleven states saw increased performance in reading, nine states saw reading scores decrease or remain the same.

Middle Schools
High Schools
Reading
Math
Reading
Math
States with Higher Overall Performance
16
24
11
14
States with No Change in Overall Performance
3
4
3
1
States with Lower Overall Performance
8
0
6
6
Total Number of States Analyzed
27
28
20
21

SourceStalled in Secondary: A Look at Student Achievement Since the No Child Left Behind Act.

While closing the achievement gap was one of the key goals of NCLB, the report found little evidence of it occurring at the secondary school level. At the high school level, the Latino-white gap grew or stayed the same for both reading and math in more states than it narrowed. The same was true for the achievement gap between poor and nonpoor high school students. Between African-American high school students and their white peers, the math achievement gap grew or remained the same in ten states.

At the middle school level, more states saw reading achievement gaps narrow instead of widen, but in some instances the gap narrowed because the scores of white students decreased. In math, the report pointed out “disturbing trends” in the Latino-white gap, which “grew wider or stayed the same in more states than it narrowed.” In addition, the gap between poor and nonpoor students grew or remained the same in nine states.

The report builds on an earlier Ed Trust report that found that states are moving in the right direction at the elementary school level. In fact, of the twenty-nine states surveyed, all but one showed increased overall achievement in math at the elementary school level. In reading, twenty of twenty-eight states showed improvement.

“For far too long, we’ve been operating on this notion that education is like inoculation-that if we get it right for kids in those early years, we can prevent later school failure,” Haycock said. “Experience tells us this assumption is wrong. Education is more like nutrition. You have to start early with that quality diet-and then continue all the way up the line.”

The complete report is available at http://www2.edtrust.org/EdTrust/Press+Room/stalled+in+secondary.htm.

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