Fewer children left behind

Needy students are closing the test gap in the Washington area due to No Child Left Behind, reports the Washington Post.

Since enactment of the No Child Left Behind law, students from poor families in the Washington area have made major gains on reading and math tests and are starting to catch up with those from middle-class and affluent backgrounds, a Washington Post analysis shows.

Teachers are more likely to “work in teams to improve and fine-tune lessons and brainstorm ways to help students,” the Post reports. Teachers use “mini-tests” to gauge whether a few students need extra help or the entire class needs to be taught the lesson again.

Three years ago, Shady Grove Middle School in Montgomery County missed its “adequate yearly progress” target for low-income students by one child.

(Principal Lance) Dempsey launched a schoolwide literacy plan. She pushed teachers to learn techniques to integrate reading into every subject and gave them weekly training in reading instruction. Teachers started meeting regularly to identify students who were falling behind and to make plans to help them. Educators across the region are taking similar steps. Physical education and art teachers often weave math and literacy lessons into games and projects.

In 2005, two-fifths of low-income students passed in reading. This year, nearly three-fourths passed.

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  1. Unfortunately:

    Despite optimism about rising scores, some experts caution that state tests are an unreliable gauge because standards vary from place to place. They point to national test scores that show progress at a much slower pace than in the Washington area, with some achievement gaps holding steady.

  2. Given that the NAEP achievement gap has not changed significantly, I question what the state test results actually mean. Are there any other signs of progress such as an increase in the graduation rate for disadvantaged kids or a decrease in the number of them needing remedial coursework in college?

  3. Margo/Mom says:

    Well–it’s easy to throw around a lot of statements like “NAEP achievement gap has not changed significantly” and “the state tests are an unreliable guage.” But it really pays to look at the data.

    First, it appears that DC, being essentially a large urban district functioning as a state has chosen not to develop it’s own criterion referenced assessment, but instead is using the Stanford Achievement Test, which I believe is nationally normed. Second, DC is one of the urban districts oversampled in NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessemnt. This means that there is NAEP data specific to DC and it shows a similar increase in math, particularly at the fourth grade level. It doesn’t show up particularly well when only looking at the percentage proficient–which remains quite small. But there is perceptable shrinking of the “below basic” category, which is the group on the bottom, and an overall increase in scale score.

  4. If the numbers achieving grade-level proficiency aren’t increasing significantly, then the other percentages don’t really matter all that much.

    It’s like celebrating the fact that month my checking account was overdrawn by $1000 but this month it was only overdrawn by $500. Yes, that’s an improvement, but I’m still not balancing my budget…

  5. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Educational gains take time. They need to start in the early years and trickle up. The vast majority of kids aren’t able to leap multiple grade levels in one year, although most are capable of doing more than one grade level. If a kid is three years behind, then that kid has to progress at a faster rate for multiple years in order to catch up. Those numbers DO matter because they mean those kids will be much closer or at grade level proficiency in later years.

    The problem with politically driven education reform is that when people don’t see instant results, they agitate for change. Remember, it takes 12 years (or at least 10 if the average drop-out does so at age 16) to know if reforms begun in first grade result in higher graduation rates. If you see good things happening, tweak for improvement, but stay on the same path.

    If you’re still overdrawn by $500, maybe you just need a couple more paychecks to be caught up instead of quitting your job.