Targeting Students at the Top


Two recent reports suggest that too little is being demanded of America's top students -- and that too little is being achieved.

On the demand side comes a study from the National Endowment for the Humanities which looks at the national exams given to good students in other industrialized nations. The report bemoans the fact that college-bound U.S. students are taking multiple-choice aptitude tests "while Japanese students are selecting the sentence that correctly explains why the United States sought to open trade with Japan, and while French students are writing essays describing the European resistance to the Nazis during World War II." The study supports a Bush administration push for tough national tests.

On the achievement side, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) took the first look at how high-level students in the U.S. are performing from elementary school through doctoral-level study. The report found that only half of high school seniors in the top quarter of their class had graduated from college seven years later.

"In the last decade, states responded well by setting minimum standards. The basics are back for almost all students. Now we need to target top students," said Gregory R. Anrig, president of ETS, in releasing the report.

That's already on the agenda as education reform is debated and enacted. High standards and tough tests are needed. But so is further research to determine what barriers -- financial or otherwise -- are preventing the most talented students from achieving all they should.

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