Top Students Lose Steam Under No Child Left Behind, Study Finds

Many high-achieving children in the U.S. fail to sustain their academic performance over time, a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute showed.

Thirty percent to 50 percent of the country’s top students scored lower in math and reading as they moved from third grade through eighth grade and from sixth grade through 10th grade, according to the study, which was released today.

The report followed the progress of more than 120,000 students in over 1,500 U.S. public schools. It builds on an earlier study by the institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association that showed top students aren’t improving under the nation’s No Child Left Behind public school law.

“Young people who could go on to be among the highest- achieving kids in the country, go on to help us be internationally competitive, they are falling back down to Earth,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president for National Programs and Policy at the Washington-based Fordham Institute. “We are just losing a lot of potential and that’s going to hurt us down the road.”

In March 2010, the Obama administration proposed to change the law -- enacted during the administration of former President George W. Bush -- with emphasis on measuring the gains of all students rather than bringing low achievers to a level of proficiency.

Focusing on the progress of all kids, including those well above proficiency, could “change the dynamic in schools,” Petrilli said. Now, schools are under pressure to concentrate on the lowest-performing students while ignoring the top achievers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Heather Perlberg in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at

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