Thursday, January 06, 2005

Stalled in Secondary: Student Achievement Lags in Middle Grades and High School

January 6 2005
CONTACT: Nicolle Grayson 202-293-1217 ext.351
(Washington, DC) – Three years after enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, student achievement in reading and math lags in the middle- and high-school grades, and too many states are not making progress closing achievement gaps, according to a report released today by the Education Trust. While some states are making good progress, the overall story demonstrates the need to move faster on reforms.
The Education Trust analysis of student achievement on state assessments finds that while elementary schools are making modest gains, alarming trends persist at the secondary level. In high schools, for instance, the Latino-White gap grew or stayed the same in more states than it narrowed. We found the same pattern in the gap between poor and non-poor students.
“We are seeing some improvements in achievement at the elementary-school level, but we’re not getting the same traction at the secondary level, particularly in our high schools,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust.
“This shouldn’t surprise anyone,” she said. “Over the years, policymakers and educators have focused energy and resources on the elementary grades. And proportionately more elementary schools receive Title I funds and are thus more directly affected by NCLB’s resources and accountability provisions.”
“But, 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” she 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.”
This stalled achievement demonstrates that we need to get honest about confronting the difficulties high schools face, Haycock said. “Certainly, states could use more money to create better tests,” she said. “But simply adding new assessments at the high-school level alone won’t raise student achievement.
“We need to overhaul the way we run high schools: how we sort students, how we use time, how we assign teachers, and even our academic goals for students,” Haycock said.
Students and teachers need real and concrete help and resources to prepare students for life beyond high school. That means a rich, challenging curriculum that is aligned with real-world expectations, teachers at the secondary level who demonstrate they know their subjects and how to teach them, and intensive interventions for students who enter high school far behind.
The new report, “Stalled in Secondary: A Look at Student Achievement Since the No Child Left Behind Act” highlights the clear need for greater focus on secondary schools.
A follow-up to our October 2004 analysis of student achievement at the elementary grades, this report examines publicly available, comparable state assessments results at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in the three years since NCLB’s enactment.
  This report finds that:
-- Of the 29 states studied at the elementary level, all but one increased in overall achievement in math. The results are similar in reading: 20 of 28 states improved.
-- 24 of 28 states improved in math in the middle grades. In reading, 16 of 27 states improved, while achievement either declined or remained flat in 11 states.
--  At the high-school level, 14 of 21 states improved math achievement. And in  reading, only 11 of 20 states saw gains.
A key goal of NLCB is to close achievement gaps. The news on this front is disturbing at the high-school level. In math, the Latino-White gap in high school actually grew in 11 states. And the gap in math achievement between African-American high-school students and their White peers grew or remained the same in 10 states.
The national discussion about improving high schools is long overdue. Three years into implementation of NCLB, it is imperative that the federal and state policymakers play a much larger role in helping secondary schools meet their obligations to educate all students to high levels. 
“We understand that high schools, in particular, face long-standing and difficult challenges, but low achievement at the secondary level is not inevitable,” said Ross Wiener, policy director of the Education Trust. “  The fact is, we still are not doing some of the things we know could make a difference. 
“We are stingy with those who need the most help, whether it’s the support we give to struggling teachers or their students,” he said. “It is time to abandon the old model that assumed that many students would not learn to high levels.”
The charts that follow offer at-a-glance summaries of state assessment results between 2002 and 2004.
One note on reading these charts:
The first cell in the left-hand column shows the number of states that have increased overall student achievement. The remaining cells in that column show the number of states that have narrowed gaps between groups of students.
Similarly, the first cell on the far right-hand column shows the numbers of states that have seen overall student achievement decline. The remaining cells in that column show the number of states where gaps have widened.
Student achievement on state assessments between 2002 and 2004:
For charts and full report (PDF) go to

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