The good news–The No Child Left Behind Act is effecting a positive change for a certain group of the nation’s students. In fact, it is helping to narrow the gap between low and high achievers. According to Tom Loveless from The Brookings Institute, states that adopted accountability systems in the 1990’s reported big gains for low achievers. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that between the years 2000-2007 students in the bottom 10% of their classes have made rapid gains in basic skills across the grades. Now for the bad news—Students in the top decile (10%) have made only minimal gains.
With limited time and resources to meet national standards, teachers have been devoting their energy in assisting those who are deficient in some basic skills. Meanwhile, the more capable students may be languishing in classes in which teachers are moving slowly or reiterating information that they already know. The results of a national research study indicated that teachers are “much more likely to indicate that struggling students are their top priority.” Yet, the poll also showed that teachers realize that all students should receive equal treatment. An overwhelming majority of educators (86%) responded that in order for the country to reach the goals of justice and equality, they need to focus on all students, regardless of background or capability.
The solution may be as simple as ability grouping. Placing students into classes with those of similar ability for even part of the school day would allow teachers to provide a more challenging and stimulating environment for the capable and gifted students. Instead of experiencing boredom, they could be progressing at an accelerated rate. At the same time, those in the less able groups could receive the remedial assistance that they need.
Pretending that all students are equal is a disservice to teachers and students alike. If this country is to become globally competitive again, then we need to attend to all of our young people. While improving the skills of those less capable, we cannot ignore the needs of our best and brightest, as they are our hope for the future.