I've been reading in a few different places about the TALENT Act, a bill in Congress that would require states and schools to measure the progress of students who score above grade level on standardized tests. The progress of these students would be reported on state report cards. The idea is that, while No Child Left Behind has done a reasonable job of tracking the progress of students scoring below grade level, anyone above grade level is deemed to be doing fine. If the proportion of students scoring at the highest levels goes down, that doesn't trigger any problems under the law.
It's an interesting idea. You can read an editorial in favor of the idea over at Education Week here. The author, Frances R. Spielhagen, writes, "As a former high school teacher and coordinator of programs for gifted students, I know firsthand the frustrations of the very capable student who must slog through drill-and-kill reviews every fall while teachers ensure that everyone is up to speed and ready to move forward."
What all this gets at is that schools should be serving a "value-add" function. There is no particular glory, as a school, in getting students who are all from well-educated families, and then producing students who score reasonably well on grade-level standardized tests. If you got kids who were on average one year above grade-level, and cranked out kids who were performing at two years above grade-level, that would be more remarkable. Likewise, a high-poverty school that produces students scoring at grade level, when similar schools score far below, is adding quite a bit of value.
People track these kinds of things in other spheres, and it certainly seems possible to track it in education as well. I hope we'll be moving toward the day of high-tech testing, when the tests respond to the student, and we figure out exactly where a student is, and can monitor progress more closely. Laws, though, are blunt ways to get at this idea.
On a personal note: I have a new book out today (March 1)! It's called "All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending," and it's published by Portfolio (part of Penguin). The book looks at money as a tool for building the lives we want, and argues that money can buy happiness (usually) if we spend it right. If you enjoy my writing here, I'd appreciate if you'd check it out. There's more over at my personal blog, www.lauravanderkam.com.