ED-WATCH: US High Schools In "Dead Zone"


American 17-year-olds aren't performing any better in reading and math than their bell-bottom-clad counterparts in the early 1970s, according to a recent round of tracking educational trends.

"If high schools were cellphones, they'd be considered in a dead zone," says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington advocacy group.

Younger students, 9-13 year-olds, are making significant gains.

Educational researchers say the flat-line trend for 17-year-olds should sound an alarm, defining the challenge of trying to raise academic achievement.

More than 26,000 students took the tests for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - a project overseen by the research wing of the US Department of Education. The results were released this week.

The latest report card comes at a time when discussion is building in policy circles about whether there should be national education standards, or whether the multiple standards used by states under the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) should be benchmarked.

State testing currently being done to comply with No Child Left Behind is riddled with shortcomings.

"State tests are in many ways useless for making any kind of state-to-state comparison," says Frederick Hess, director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

The stagnation of high school scores "puts the lie to the idea [that if] you prepare them better in elementary school, they'll just move through the system and be better prepared high-schoolers," says Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs at The Education Trust, a Washington nonprofit.

"We've got to get better high schools to get better high school outcomes," said Wilkins.

The new NAEP study is titled "The Nation's Report Card: NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress."

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