Even ‘high-performing’ schools leave some students behind, new study shows

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Publication date: 
April 27 2011

WASHINGTON (April 27, 2011)—As the Senate prepares to mark up its version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a new report from The Education Trust shows schools that seem to be “high performers” are not necessarily serving all of their students well.

While America must turn around its lowest performing schools, “Stuck Schools Revisited: Beneath the Averages” suggests that policymakers and educators must also take steps to raise the achievement of students who are struggling at schools that, on the surface, appear to be doing fine.

“Far too many low-income and minority students attend consistently low-performing—or ‘stuck’—schools,” says Natasha Ushomirsky, author of the report and senior policy analyst at Ed Trust. “But what we too often overlook are schools that seem to be doing okay, but are just as stuck for one or more groups of their students. Even as we work to fix the former, we cannot take our eye off the latter, because kids in all of these schools need and deserve help.” 

The “Stuck Schools” report is based on the 2005-2009 state assessment results from 1,066 schools in Maryland and 2004-2008 results from 1,477 schools in Indiana.  It examines how different groups of students fare in elementary and middle schools across each state. The achievement patterns of schools and students in these two states reflect those found across the country. The report categorizes schools with 20 or more students in a given racial or income-level subgroup based on the performance and improvement of each group. Schools that start out as low performing for one or more groups and show minimal gains or declines over time are considered ‘stuck’ for that group of students.

“One of the hallmarks of the ESEA is its laser-like focus on the achievement of students who have been poorly served by our school systems for generations,” says Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “Now, we are better able to identify the schools where that sad history is still playing out—both overall and for some groups of students.”

Maryland: Some Improvement and Gap Narrowing
Maryland School Assessment results show improvement and some gap narrowing in reading results for all students from 2005 to 2009. But the data reveal that in all kinds of Maryland schools, even those that started out showing reasonably good results for most of their students, African-American and Latino students far too often lag behind. In fact, 53 percent of schools serving African Americans and nearly 60 percent of those serving Latino students started out low performing for these groups.  Some of these schools went on to make top gains for these groups, but in others, African-American and Latino students languished year after year. 

Indiana: No Narrowing in Gaps over Time
In Indiana, gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers have remained both wide and stagnant.  More than 70 percent of schools serving low-income students started out low performing for this subgroup in reading, often while their other students showed good performance.   While some schools showed substantial gains for their low-income students, many schools stagnated or declined, leaving thousands of low-income elementary and middle schoolers stranded.

Ed Trust’s analysis demonstrates that when policymakers and educators consider only overall scores, many schools—and more importantly large numbers of struggling students—simply slip under the radar.

“Failure to help these students is nothing short of negligence,” Haycock says. “The federal government has a responsibility to hold schools, districts, and states accountable for educating all students. Congress must not turn a blind eye to inequity—especially in schools seen as doing ‘just fine.

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