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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The smart get smarter

In the ten years before the pandemic, high achievers did better in math and reading while everyone else slid, writes Fordham's Michael Petrilli. Achievement gaps widened.

Achievement trends on what's known as the Nation's Report Card from 2009-2019 show students in the top 10 or 25 percent "held steady or even gained ground," while those in the bottom 10 or 25 percent "saw their test scores fall in both reading and math, at least in the fourth and eighth grades."

Science scores rose for fourth- and eighth-graders of all achievement levels.

“This is an alarming, alarming trend,” said Bev Perdue, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, referring to the widening gaps.

Petrilli thinks we should "celebrate the fact that high achievers are doing better over time," while working harder to boost the low achievers.

"The gaps are widening on achievement, not race or income," Petrilli writes. Low-achieving white students lost more than similar black and Hispanic students.

Brandon Wright, who's also at Fordham, looks at the trends in math achievement.

"The good news is that, over the last decade, the U.S. was getting more students to the high end of achievement in fourth and eighth grade, especially in math," he writes. "The bad news: There’s no progress in high school — and the U.S. lags behind far too many countries, sometimes by huge margins."

The U.S. is mediocre in international tests, he writes. Before the pandemic, America's advanced students were "heading in the right direction" in math. But those gains may have been lost due to America's "too-cautious approach to school closures, hybrid learning, and masking," Wright notes. “Over past two years,” reported the Economist earlier this year, “America’s children have missed more time in the classroom than those in most of the rich world.”

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