Dori Kleber owns and operates GiftedAtlanta.com, a non-commercial online resource for parents of gifted children. She is a parent advocate for gifted education and the mother of two gifted children.
In this piece, she explains why education policy must not just consider under performing students, but those who are high performing, too.
By Dori Kleber
One of the great tragedies of our American public schools in the past decade has been the neglect of our brightest children. While struggling students have made gains, high-achieving students have stagnated.
During the reign of No Child Left Behind, our schools have been so intent on lifting low-performing students to a level of minimum aptitude that they have ignored the needs of those who already exceed basic proficiency and are ready for greater challenges. The result: Top students are languishing.
This imbalance in academic growth was confirmed in a 2008 study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB.” From 2000 to 2007, students whose achievement ranked in the bottom 10 percent made significant gains in average NAEP math and reading scores, but scores for students in the top 10 percent hardly moved, the report showed.
Teachers interviewed for that study acknowledged that high achievers weren’t getting the same level of attention in the classroom. Sixty percent of teachers surveyed said low-performing students were a top priority at their school, but only 23 percent named high-achieving students as a priority group. Furthermore, four out of five teachers said struggling students were most likely to get one-on-one attention in the classroom, whereas only one in 20 said advanced students were most likely to get individual interaction with their teacher.
We can hardly be surprised. Under NCLB, the measure of success for teachers and schools was raising all students to grade level. Accordingly, teachers focused their attention on students who were behind, and administrators supported that focus.
There is hope for change in Georgia. The state, now operating under a waiver from NCLB, is changing the measure of teacher success. The Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES), in development at the Georgia Department of Education and expected to roll out in the 2014-15 school year, will make teachers and schools accountable for the academic growth of every child.
Where NCLB set a single benchmark for all children in the same grade, TKES looks at where each individual student begins the school year and sets expectations for his or her growth. School districts will measure student learning with standardized tests where possible, and will develop other instruments to measure gains in classes that are not covered by standardized tests.
In making this change, Georgia is following the lead of the majority of U.S. states, which are now moving to a growth model, measuring student improvement rather than achievement status.
TKES will expect teachers to raise the achievement level of struggling students – still a worthy endeavor, as it always has been. But unlike NCLB, Georgia’s new system also will demand that teachers foster growth in students who are performing above grade level.
You would have to go back a full generation – to the years after Sputnik – to find a time when gifted education was a true priority in the United States. Yet if we want to ensure a strong future for our nation, we can no longer accept a bias toward the underperforming student.
We must insist not only that no child be left behind, but also that no child stand still. No student should end the school year where he or she began. Every student should learn. With the upcoming move to TKES, we have hope that in Georgia, every student will.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog