Report: Schools Should Do More For High-Achievers

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

New research shows that schools in both Ohio and South Carolina are the best in the country for high achievers, while schools in California, Maryland, Montana, New York, and North Dakota do little to incentivize schools to focus on their smartest students.

The report titled ‘High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA’ has found that many states in the US should focus on the needs of high achieving students following past policy preferences that concentrated on the needs of lower performing students.

Published in August 2016, the authors Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffith, Brandon L. Wright and Audrey Kim found that there is a large variation between incentive and accountability systems of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the latter of which gave states greater authority over their school accountability systems.

The authors argue that the NCLB reform led schools to redefine the term ‘proficiency’, which was a key measurement of achievement under the policy. With sanctions placed on those schools that did not reach targets, there was an incentive to concentrate resources on those students who were lower-achievers. Students just above the ‘proficiency’ bar were therefore, overlooked and made lesser educational gains, while students under the bar made large gains during the NCLB period.

Under ESSA, states now have the opportunity to redesign their school rating systems and improve upon the NCLB model, with specific consideration for high achievers. Schools are also able to rate student growth which includes that of high achievers, rewarding progress beyond the measurement of proficiency, which was previously unlawful under the NCLB policy.

The authors have specific concern regarding the fact that:

“… low-income high achievers are likely to attend high-poverty schools, which face the greatest pressure to raise the test scores of their lowest-performing students and neglect their top pupils. They’re also schools that typically face a host of other challenges…policy makers who care about their low-income high achievers should take full advantage of their newfound authority under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to ensure that their schools have ample incentives to educate those children, and all children, to the max.”

The authors gave ratings to each state based on their current and planned accountability systems based on whether a school: rates academic achievements by students achieving an ‘advanced’ level; focuses on the progress of all students; separates ‘gifted students’ and ‘high achievers’ in their reporting results; and counts the growth of all students in their summative school rating.

Overall, the authors found that:

“[A]dmirably, most states have taken advantage of their additional flexibility to adopt robust growth models. But inexplicably, most have failed to put these growth models at the center of their school accountability systems.”

The result on school accountability presents an opportunity for all states to improve outcomes for not only their low performing students, but for all students.

The authors recommend that the Department of Education prepare regulations that encourage and measure the achievement of all students, which would be consistent with the objectives of the ESSA.

The full report has been made available online.