High Achievers

wise wonk once wrote that the biggest challenge facing America’s schools is the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom. The subject of this NBER working paper is one proposed solution to this quandary: sorting students by ability. And though conventional wisdom (and some prior research) suggests that kids in the lower-achieving groups would fare worse with such an approach, the researchers in this study concluded that sorting is beneficial for both high and low achievers—though high achievers did see larger gains than those of their lower-scoring peers (approximately 1.6 times greater). The analysis used student- and classroom- level  data linked to one cohort of Dallas elementary students—amounting to roughly 9,000 children in 135 schools who progress from the third to fourth grade (in 2003–04 and 2004–05). Analysts attempt to account for unobservable ways that schools might sort (say, by student behavior) and ultimately find that three-quarters of the schools organize students along at least one dimension: Nineteen percent by prior math scores, 24 percent by prior reading scores, 28 percent by “gifted” status, 57 percent by LEP (limited English proficiency) status, and 13 percent by special-education status (further, around 40 percent sort by at least two dimensions). If schools began perfectly grouping by ability, they would see a 0.4 SD gain in student learning. While this small-scale study provides evidence that sorting is beneficial for increased test scores, school leaders must bear in mind the importance of other factors, such as the impact of...

Advanced Placement Podcasting

Andy Smarick and Kathleen Porter-Magee rock this week’s podcast. Find out why AP Calculus has such high pass rates, why being overwhelmed with choices can be a good thing, and why rising grad rates may be a red herring. Amber is hip to KIPP.

Amber's Research Minute

KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes by Christina Clark Tuttle, et al. (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research, February 2013).

Gifted students and not-so-gifted lawmaking

Mike and Checker talk about the ethics of prepping kids for gifted tests, charter selectivity, and overpriced congressionally mandated commissions, and Dara gives fresh ammunition to helicopter parents.

Amber's Research Minute

Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network by Deanna Blansky, Christina Kavanaugh, Cara Boothroyd, Brianna Benson, Julie Gallagher, John Endress, Hiroki Sayama

Getting picky about choice

Mike and Adam discuss school-choice regulations with John Kirtley of Step Up for Students. Amber talks up the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Amber's Research Minute

“Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program” by Patrick J. Wolf and Michael McShane (Association of Education Finance and Policy Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013).

Amber and Rob, sitting in a tree…

Mike and Kathleen are disappointed by the most recent Next Generation Science Standards and by Alabama’s decision to withdraw from the Common Core testing consortia…But if Amber’s discussion of a study on charter performance didn’t cheer them up, news of her recent engagement did!

Amber's Research Minute

Charter School Growth and Replication by Emily Peltason and Margaret E. Raymond (Stanford, CA: Center for Research and Education Outcomes, January 2013)

Switching it up

In a surprise twist, Dara Zeehandelaar hosts Fordham president Checker Finn on this week’s Gadfly Show. They discuss Tom Harkin’s retirement, wheelchair basketball, and the flap over the MAP. Amber intervenes with a word on late interventions.

Amber's Research Minute

Late Interventions Matter Too: The Case of College Coaching in New Hampshire by Scott Carell and Bruce Sacerdote (National Bureau of Education Research, Dartmouth College, University of California Davis, July 2012).

Ensuring that America’s brightest low-income pupils receive an education on par with their abilities has long played second fiddle to closing the achievement gap and catching up our lowest-performing students. This recent paper by Caroline Hoxby gives these high-ability youngsters the concertmaster’s chair, at least for a moment. In it, she and colleague Christopher Avery (of the Harvard Kennedy School) examine the college-application behaviors and college progress of high-achieving, low-income students (those in the bottom quartile of wealth distribution). They then compare these patterns to those of wealthy high flyers, or those in the top quartile. The authors first determine ability status by students’ 2008 SAT or ACT scores, focusing on the top 10 percent of test-takers (as fewer than half of all students take a college-entrance exam, this delineates the top 4 percent of students overall). Three findings are particularly interesting: First, most high-achieving, low-income students do not apply to selective colleges or universities, despite their potential for hefty financial-aid packages. Second, those who do apply to selective institutions are admitted and graduate from these schools at rates similar to their high-income peers. And third, those in urban districts are much likelier to apply to selective schools than those in small or rural districts; in fact, 70 percent of low-income, high-ability students who apply to selective colleges come from just fifteen urban areas. The authors speculate that these larger districts are able to offer selective or magnet high schools. Smaller districts without this critical mass of high flyers can’t...

Inaugurations and graduations

Mike and Kathleen are skeptical about the President’s education agenda and newly released high school graduation rate data. Amber thinks about low-income high-flyers.

Amber's Research Minute

The Missing "One-Offs": The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery, The National Bureau of Economic Research

Education Next

This week, Ed Next’s Mike Petrilli was a guest on "What’s the Big Idea?," a podcast hosted by Josh Starr, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Starr has been in the limelight because he has criticized the amount of standardized testing taking place in schools, arguing that there should be a three-year moratorium on testing while we put the new Common Core standards in place. Montgomery County is currently rolling out a new curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core standards.

Some parents in Montgomery County are unhappy that the county is hoping to limit tracking under the new curriculum. In the past, many students in the wealthy county were offered accelerated instruction in math, but Starr believes that because the new curriculum is more challenging, it should not be necessary to accelerate so many students. He also suggested (in the podcast) that some parents push for their children to receive accelerated math instruction for the wrong reasons.

In the podcast, Petrilli challenged Starr’s claim that students with a wide range of abilities (in math in particular) will be able to be taught effectively in the same classroom using the new curriculum. (The issue of how to ensure that all students are challenged in diverse classrooms is a focus of Petrilli’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma.) Petrilli described his visit to an elementary school in Montgomery County (which was the subject of an Education Next article) that has been praised for its...

Scapegoats

Mike and emerging scholar Morgan Polikoff discuss accusations of discrimination in gifted-and-talented programs, Quality Counts, and lightning rod/tiger mom Michelle Rhee. Amber contemplates whether multiple-choice tests lead students to learn or forget.

Amber's Research Minute

Genna Angello, Elizabeth Bjork, Robert Bjork, and Jeri Little, “Multiple-Choice Tests Exonerated, At Least Some of the Charges: Forgetting Test-Induced Learning and Avoiding Test-Induced Forgetting,”

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