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NCLB Outrages

Left Behind: Six Million At-Risk Secondary Students

Ohanian Comment: I have posted the National Board of Advisors for this group below their statement.

Approximately 6 million students in middle and high schools are reading significantly below grade level. They are, therefore, significantly at risk of leaving school without a diploma or graduating from high school unprepared for college or a career. Many will drop out. Some will receive a “certificate of attendance” or a GED, but these alternatives sidestep states’ accountability systems and carry far less prestige than a high school diploma to colleges and employers. The 6 million at-risk students, who make up the lowest 25 percent of achievement, are 3.5 times more likely to drop out than students in the next highest quarter of academic achievement, and 20 times more likely to drop out than top performing students. More alarming is that these drop-out rates could actually increase as more states adopt high-stakes assessments that include tests students must pass in order to graduate.

Who are these students? To find out, the Alliance conducted analyses of 2002 data (the most recent available) from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other sources. According to NAEP, only 3 percent of eighth graders and 5 percent of twelfth graders are reading at advanced levels. Even more troubling, 25 percent of eighth graders and 26 percent of twelfth graders do not have even partial mastery of the fundamental reading skills that are expected at their respective grade levels. Assuming that these rates apply comparably to all middle and high school students, 6 million students in grades 6 through 12 are reading below basic levels.

Continuing the extrapolation tells us even more about these 6 million students. It supports previous research, finding that at-risk students are disproportionately poor and minority, with a persistent achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.
For example:

· White students continue to outperform all other racial and ethnic groups on reading achievement tests in both eighth grade and twelfth grade.

· Eighth and twelfth grade students who attend schools that receive Title I funding have lower average reading scores than students who attend schools that report not receiving funds.

· Among twelfth grade students scoring at a proficient reading level, 42 percent are white, 34 percent are Asian, 22 percent are Hispanic, and 16 percent are black. These achievement gaps persist for all ethnic groups, whether they are Title I-eligible or not.

However, the NAEP data also indicate that large numbers of at-risk students DO NOT HAVE these characteristics, suggesting that students from all backgrounds and communities are being left behind. For instance:

· Although approximately half of at-risk secondary students are poor (defined as eligible to receive free/reduced-price lunches) the remaining 3 million are not poor.

· Although 1.5 million African American and 1 million Hispanic students read below basic levels, roughly half of all at-risk students are white.

· Although slightly more than a third of students reading below basic levels attend schools in an urban area, almost two thirds of at-risk secondary students attend school in a suburb or a rural area.

Certain characteristics undoubtedly place students from all backgrounds at greater risk. For example:

· The education levels of parents have an impact on their children’s reading abilities. Students who report that their parents did not graduate from high school read approximately 3 grade levels behind students whose parents graduated from college.

· Students who move frequently are more likely to be among the lowest performing readers. Eighth graders reporting that they changed schools 3 or more times since first grade read, on average, at levels 2 years behind their peers. Similarly, twelfth graders reporting changing schools 3 or more times in the previous 2 years because their families moved are 4 years behind.

· Poor attendance appears to be strongly associated with low reading achievement, as eighth and twelfth graders reporting at least 10 absences during the school year read 3 and 4.5 years, respectively, behind the national average.

· Not surprisingly, students whose first language is not English may be most at risk of being left behind. Although NAEP data on this indicator are insufficient for extrapolation, limited English proficient (LEP) eighth graders appear to read at levels approximately 4 years behind their peers. LEP twelfth graders are roughly 5 years behind.

In 2001, President George W. Bush signed sweeping education legislation that promises to “leave no child behind.” Currently, however, millions of students all across the country ARE BEING LEFT BEHIND, unprepared to graduate from high school with the skills needed to succeed in college or a rewarding career. In addition, NAEP scores reveal that more high school seniors are reading below basic proficiency levels now than they were ten years ago.

We know who these children are. The question remaining is whether we, as a country, have the will to fulfill the promise to leave no child – or adolescent – behind.

National Advisory Board
Dr. Charles M. Achilles
Professor, Seton Hall University and Eastern Michigan University

Betsy Brand
Co-Director, American Youth Policy Forum

Dr. Beth B. Buehlmann
Executive Director, Center for Workforce Preparation

Arthur L. Coleman
Attorney, Nixon Peabody; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Department of Education

Christopher Cross
Senior Fellow, Center for Education Policy; Distinguished Senior Fellow, Education Commission of the States

Dr. Samuel Halperin
Senior Fellow, American Youth Policy Forum

Dr. Gerry House
President and CEO, Institute for Student Achievement

Goodwin Liu
Attorney, O'Melveny & Meyers; Former Clerk, US Supreme Court

Dr. Patricia McNeil
President, High School Solutions; Former Assistant Secretary, US Department of Education

Dr. James McPartland
Professor, Johns Hopkins University; Director, Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University

Hilary Pennington
Co-founder and CEO, Jobs for the Future

Dr. Terry K. Peterson
Director, Afterschool National Resource Network; Senior Fellow, University of South Carolina and College of Charleston

Raymond C. Pierce
Partner, Baker & Hostetler; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Department of Education

Richard W. Riley
Former Secretary, Department of Education ; Partner, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough; Distinguished Chair, Richard W. Riley Institute of Government Politics and Public Leadership, Furman University

Dr. Rosa A. Smith
President, Caroline and Sigmund Schott Foundation, The Schott Center for Public and Early Education

William G. Sutton
Former Rear Admiral, United States Navy; President, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute
William L. Taylor
Vice Chairman, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Attorney; Professor, Georgetown University Law School

Dr. Janice Weinman
Corporate Vice-President, Mount Sinai NYU Health

Ronald A. Wolk
Chairman, Editorial Projects in Education; Chairman, Big Picture Company, Providence, RI

— Alliance for Excellent Education

June 2003


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