On the bubble

“Bubble” students — those who are close to proficiency — benefit the most from No Child Left Behind, concludes a Chicago study. Researchers found low achievers scored “the same or lower” under NCLB compared to Chicago’s pre-NCLB accountability system; for gifted students, researchers found “mixed evidence of gains” in the NCLB era. Education Week reports:

Kids in the middle — the ones closest to proficiency — performed better under NCLB than they did before.

This study lends credence to common critiques of that law encourages teachers to focus on the so-called bubble kids — the ones that are close to reaching proficiency.

Growth models can fix the problem by rewarding schools for progress of students’ at the lowest end of the spectrum. But this study brings to mind the question about gifted students. What incentives will schools have to reach out to gifted students if the ultimate goal of NCLB is proficiency for all by 2013-14?

At Parentalcation, Rory argues for spending more on raising the achievement of the middle third of students.

Matt Johntson argues for focusing on the bottom third on Going to the Mat.

Both say gifted students don’t need extra resources to excel. They’ve got pushy parents or inner drive to keep them on track.

About Joanne


  1. Disclaimer: I just chose the middle 1/3 to disagree with Matt. It may or may not reflect my actual opinion.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I disagree with the “gifted students don’t need extra resources..”

    True, they’re already labeled gifted BECAUSE they’re doing better than their peers…

    But often they’re not doing as well as they could…

    And while wealthy parents may have the resources to give these kids more oppurtunities outside of school, working class and poor parents don’t…

    So then you end up with a bunch of bored gifted kids who get ignored simply because they can already pass the test…

    My fifth grade year was wasted because I moved to a school in MD where the curriculum was almost 2 YEARS behind where it has been in PA — The school’s answer? They let me spend all day everyday playing Oregon Trail and other computer games….
    There were about 8 other kids in the class with the same problem… but since we already met the minimum requirements for a fifth grader, we all basically spent every day killing time waiting for school to end……

    If people use NCLB to ignore the gifted kids, it really DOES become No Child Get’s Ahead…. Not a good situation for the families who have no choice but to send their kids to the local public school…….

  3. As an educator & still a learner I would be appalled if provision for Gifted & Talented Children was lost. More importantly good teachers everywhere ensure that ‘every child matters’.(DCSF-once was DfES in UK). Work is matched to ability and task. Here in the UK we are busy preparing for CfBT Education Trust’s Learner Academy which any child can access. No longer the top 2% or 5% but 15%-hopefully with G&T lead teachers and perhaps our government will ring fence G&T and Personalised Learning funds with schools we hope to reach all children in a class as well as our more able, G&T pupils.
    I live to fight my dream though,just as you do!

    Manager fot Services to Educators
    CfBT Education Trust

  4. My knee-jerk reaction was to rail about the “gifted students don’t need extra resources..”

    But if extra resources are taken to mean large amounts of instructor time, I don’t have much of a problem with the statement, at least as far as blanket statements go. Just give them the appropriate books and software and get out of the way.

  5. I find those conclusions interesting, but not at all surprising. At my school, we spend hours (really, hours) in meetings targeting our bubble kids specifically so we can targert instruction to bring them to the next level on “the tests”.

    We also look at the students who fall within the demographics (SpEd, minorities, free and reduced lunch, etc.) to find ways to bring those student statistics up and improve our school report card.

  6. Ragnarok says:

    Ah, yes, settle for mediocrity.

    And then people wonder why the U.S. gets beaten to pieces in worldwide comparisons? This is political correctness taken to its absurd extreme.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Yes but why brag about proficiency? In Tennessee you really do not achieve grade level performance (and hopefully this means you can consistently demonstrate what you have learned and apply it) until you reach the upper range of proficiency or in some cases advanced. Yet, school toot their horns when children become “proficient”. How sad! Shouldn’t they keep plowing full speed ahead to get them to advanced or the upper end of proficient? A bell curve has no place in education.

    Come on teachers — tell the truth about the cut score of being proficient. What are they in your state? When do kids reach or exceed grade level?

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    If you define “gifted” as “having a quick mind” or “learning quickly” or “able to advance beyond the norm”– something like that, the intuitive definition– then it does not at all follow that all gifted kids have pushy parents or inner drive.

    Clearly, not all gifted kids have pushy parents. Why would they? Even if only “pushy” parents produce gifted children (which is ridiculous), those parents might die, or place their children for adoption, or have to work two jobs, or be busy with something else and have no time to push the child.

    Moreover, we have many examples of people who are gifted but need an extra push. OK, let’s put it more baldly– there are plenty of kids who are gifted but lazy. If they get a push, they’ll perform and learn, but if not, they’ll be happy to play video games.

    As to NCLB benefiting “bubble” kids the most– of course it does. The basic lesson of economics is people respond to incentives. Give teachers the incentive to focus on bubble kids and ignore the top and bottom thirds, and that’s just what they’ll do.

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    In my high-school days, proficient was defined as being able to pass the Maryland Functional Reading, Writing, Math and Citizenship exams by graduation….

    To pass the reading exam you had to be able to read things like a classified ad in the paper. And various other things on a third grade level.

    Math went almost up to pre-algebra….

    Writing was a joke– the only one that REALLY took an effort was Citizenship–because you needed to know how the state and federal govt. worked….

    Students got to take practice tests until 10th or 11th grade, then the scores actually counted….

    So “Proficient” was a 16-year-old who could function as an 11 year old….. But maybe they’ve gotten tougher in the last 15 years — who knows?

    Still, there were some kids who, at 18, still couldn’t read a classified ad and were desperately trying to pass the tests so that they could graduate…

    But there were also kids who scored in the 99th percentile in 7th grade and then had to waste a week every year taking the same tests over and over and over……….

    I’ve noticed that schools seem to either serve the lowest 1/3, the middle 1/3 or the upper 1/3 well….. I’ve yet to see a school that manages to handle all three….

    Does anyone have any experience with one that does?

  10. Tom West says:

    I’ve yet to see a school that manages to handle all three

    Well, if you have limited resource, you *have* to triage (or fail everybody). Historically, schools have generally tried to balance everyone’s needs, and we all know how well that’s turned out (at least in people’s opinions).

    More to the point, management of today’s schools is all about metrics. If you can’t measure it, it’s not worth consideration. Unfortunately, successfully serving high performing students is not easily measurable, especially since the best service is one that educates in a large number of non-measured dimensions.

  11. mike curtis says:

    My Philosophy of Education: When teaching to a standard, the smart ones get it, the dumb ones don’t. Neither money nor educators will ever change this basic truth.

  12. I wonder what the bubble will look like in 2014 when all but the lowest functioning 1% have to pass the same test?


  1. […] Education Week reports: Kids in the middle the ones closest to proficiency performed source: On the bubble, Joanne […]