Tuesday / April 23

Test Scores Plateauing? Here’s What’s Missing in School Improvement Efforts

Test Scores

Contributed by Howard Adelman & Linda Taylor

Arguments continue about the scope of the plateau effect related to achievement testing, but there is widespread recognition that the effect is a significant one for too many schools.

As schools strive valiantly to meet accountability demands, reports from across the country indicate prevailing strategies for raising achievement test scores often generate increases for the first few years but then level off.

For example, in schools with low test scores, a strong emphasis on increasing scores may generate about an 11 percentile increase in year 1, another 3 percentile increase in year 2, and then flatten out by year 3 or 4. And when the leveling off is with students who are nowhere near performing well, then the students, staff, schools, and families continue to suffer.

Plateauing is another indicator that fundamental changes must be made in how barriers to learning and teaching are addressed and how disconnected students are re‑engaged in learning at school.

And, such changes need to be fully integrated as a high priority in school improvement policy, planning, implementation, and accountability.

Moving in New Directions: Transforming Student and Learning Supports

At this critical juncture in the history of public education, here are some points to consider:

  1. An improved system of student and learning supports is an essential step in increasing attendance and graduation rates, teacher retention, student progress, reducing achievement gaps, and more.
  2. To date, all school improvement policy discussions and planning have marginalized efforts to fundamentally change how schools address barriers to learning and teaching and re‑engage disconnected students. The result is an unsystematic, piecemeal, and fragmented set of relatively ineffective student and learning supports.
  3. As states and districts pursue higher curriculum standards and as Congress focuses on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it is imperative to end such marginalization in order to enhance equity of opportunity for all students to succeed at school and beyond and to ensure teachers have essential supports when they encounter learning, behavior, and emotional problems. (Teachers cannot do it alone!)
  4. Ending the marginalization of student and learning supports (including the focus on mental health in schools) requires moving school improvement policy from a two to a three component framework. The current emphasis is mainly on instructional and management concerns; the third component that needs to be developed is a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system to enable schools to address the complex array of factors interfering with student performance and achievement.
  5. Available research underscores the need for such a shift in school improvement policy and practices. Research also provides frameworks for rethinking student and learning supports and moving in new directions.
  6. The specific aims are to transform student and learning supports in ways that (a) unify the many discrete practices and (b) guide development of a comprehensive learning supports component at school, district, and state levels.

Transforming student and learning supports is fundamental to enabling equity of opportunity, promoting whole child development, and enhancing school climate; equity of opportunity is fundamental to enabling civil rights. We are pleased to report that trailblazing work along these lines is underway across the country. (See the 2015 National Initiative for Transforming Student and Learning Supports –



Howard S. Adelman and Linda Taylor have worked together for over 40 years with a constant focus on improving how schools and communities address a wide range of mental health, psychosocial, and educational problems experienced by children and adolescents. They have published extensively on the topics of addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students. They are the authors of Mental Health in Schools, published by Corwin.


No comments

leave a comment