Schoolbooks.gif Two recent studies have found conflicting conclusions on whether the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is pressuring educators in struggling schools to focus on students who fall just below the passing threshold on state tests (i.e. bubble kids) at the expense of students at the high and low end of the achievement spectrum. One study, conducted by University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, focused on the 421,000 Chicago school district. The study examined two time periods during which the school system was shifting to a testing-and-accountability system that increased pressure on educators to raise test scores. The time periods examined were the introduction of NCLB in 2002 and similar district level reforms in 1996. In both periods, the study showed that the reforms generated the largest increases in reading and math scores among students in the middle of the pack. However, the lowest-performing students generated no score improvement and high-performing students achieved mixed evidence of score improvement. According to the Chicago economists, these results suggest that the choice of the proficiency standard in these accountability systems determines the amount of time that teachers devote to students of different ability levels (i.e. ‘education triage’). Conversely, a study conducted by Vanderbilt University researcher Matthew G. Springer examined three years of test-score data on 300,000 students in an unnamed Western state. The study divided the students into 20 groups based on their test scores. Springer found that schools identified as having fallen short of their performance goals succeeded in raising achievement for the entire range of students at risk of failing, without sacrificing the academic progress of the most gifted students. Springer concluded that the students did not show evidence that educational triage is taking place. Since both NCLB and research of its effects on student achievement are relatively new, I think more research needs to be conducted to indicate conclusive trends of what may be going on in schools nationwide. Specifically, studies across different sized school districts with different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and disability subgroups of students in different regions of the country. Do you have anything to add from your experience working in education? I invite comments on this subject.