Education Gains are Lost on High School Students

Alan Borsuk:

The message put forth by, among others, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on Thursday, is that the data point to the urgency of the hot new issue in education: What can we do about high school?
The priority of the issue increased with the release of data on long-term, nationwide trends in performance by students in math and reading. The information is from the National Assessment of Education Progress, a Department of Education effort that calls itself “The Nation’s Report Card.” NAEP has been testing samples of students from across the United States since the 1970s.
The results show that among 9-year-olds, reading performance in 2004 was up a significant amount, compared with both 1999 and the oldest data available, from 1971. In fact, the overall score was the highest on record.
But among 17-year-olds, the average score in 2004 was exactly the same as in 1971, and the trend has been downward slightly since the early 1990s.

One thought on “Education Gains are Lost on High School Students”

  1. I looked more closely at some data in Rapid City (SD) schools several years ago. When making statements about high school students, you can’t generalize over the whole high school population.
    —As a rule, the top 5-10 percent students in middle school improve their scores in high school relative to other students. These students usually attend advanced courses, study hard and are driven to succeed.
    —The next tier of students, though they are generally bright and do well on tests in elementary and middle school, are the ones I found with the greatest decline in high school. There are two problems: (1) These students generally end up in classrooms with students who are much less motivated to succeed. They get good grades in easier courses, don’t put out much effort, are bored and don’t learn much. (2) Socially, these students fall in with others who are less academically oriented and there is peer pressure not to care about academics.
    —Average students tend to have more modest drops scores from middle to high school. They tend to fly under the radar screen in most high schools.
    —Students struggling in middle school generally run into real problems in ninth and tenth grades. Many do not have the social maturity to handle the added independence in high school. They skip classes and scores sink, if they haven’t dropped out.
    Part of the fix: (1) maintain and expand academically challenging courses and encourage that second tier of students to take advantage of them. (2) stop coddling students in middle school, where bad habits and bad attitudes toward academics start, (3) close high school campus for freshmen and sophomores, (4) have “smaller learning communities” within large high schools.

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