Report on Academic Progress Is a Worthwhile Conversation Starter

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Report emphasizes significant academic progress of Black and Hispanic students over the past two decades, but is incorrect in downplaying the persisting racial gaps or the phenomenon of the high school slump.

The Fordham Institute recently released a report highlighting the academic progress of Black and Hispanic groups over the past two decades at the elementary school level on the NAEP exam. From this, the report offers the major claim, based on its author’s eyeball test, that the academic progress of students of color is attributable “mostly” to poverty reduction. The report, however, also acknowledges that correlation is not causation and calls for systematic statistical analysis to test the author’s proposition.

Professor Jaekyung Lee of the University at Buffalo, SUNY, reviewed Fewer Children Left Behind: Lessons From the Dramatic Achievement Gains of the 1990s and 2000s, examining the validity of the report’s arguments around progress and causes. He looks to expanded data sources, including both family income and school expenditures.

Professor Lee notes the uneven patterns of achievement among grade levels and refutes the report’s claim that flat achievement trends among 12th graders are a result of dropout reductions. His analysis of additional data suggests that poverty reduction has indeed been important, as has increased school funding. Further, he raises critical questions about national progress towards both excellence and equity.

Overall, Lee concludes that the report helpfully brings attention to the significant academic progress of Black and Hispanic students over the past two decades, although it is incorrect to downplay the persisting racial gaps or the phenomenon of the high school slump.

Find the review, by Jaekyung Lee, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/achievement

Find Fewer Children Left Behind: Lessons From the Dramatic Achievement Gains of the 1990s and 2000s, written by Michael J. Petrilli and published by the Fordham Institute, at:
https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/research/fewer-children-left-behind

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

Jaekyung Lee
University at Buffalo, SUNY
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