NEPC Review: Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? (Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 2011)
The research report reviewed here concludes that many initially high-achieving students are falling further and further behind over the course of their years in school. The report intends to raise the alarm and to advocate for improved programs for these students. It is, however, a false alarm due to biased methodology and misleading arguments. The report’s norm-referenced framework guarantees “losers” as well as “winners,” regardless of any true improvement made by the students. Also, the “regression to the mean” effect produces a false illusion of a tradeoff of over-progress by low achievers at the cost of under-progress for high achievers. Finally, its prescription for stronger school accountability for high-achieving students under NCLB does not follow research-based guidance on how to improve student learning. Other research, including that conducted by this reviewer, finds that students who are high achievers and low achievers make approximately equal academic progress in reading and math, while the achievement gaps remain large. Moreover, a substantial part of the variation in student progress is attributable to teacher and school effects beyond students’ initial status and background characteristics.
Two authors of the report published a written reponse on October 30, 2011. That response is available here, and Dr. Lee's brief reply is published and downloadable below.