In a recently published study, “High-Achieving and Average Students’ Reading Growth: Contrasting School and Summer Trajectories,” researchers found that initially high-achieving students showed similar academic growth rates during the summer and the school year. On the other hand, the typical student improved during the school year but not during the summer. The figure below is a representation of the trends found in the article. The dashed red line for typical students shows achievement growth during the school year, but not during the summer. The solid blue line shows high-achieving student growth does not vary regardless of whether or not they were in school.
These findings indicate that there is an inequality between how much is gained from attending school. There is always cause for concern when one group of students benefits from school and another group does not. Why might there be such a difference in when achievement gains are made?
On Average, High-Achieving Students Do Not Receive Adequate Challenge in School
In the study, students who had scored highly in third grade did not show increased academic achievement until they were in fifth grade. The authors put forth two possible explanations for this finding. First, it may be that initially high-achieving students finally started to receive instruction that more closely matched their needs when they reached fifth grade. Or, the growth of initially high-achieving student had been so slow during previous grades, that the curriculum finally started to “catch up” with them. If initially high-achieving students were receiving appropriately challenging curriculum during every academic year, growth would be consistent across grade levels (and higher during the school year than in the summer).
The authors also suggested that providing reading instruction at least two grades ahead of each high-achieving student’s actual grade level may help to buffer an inequality in achievement growth rates. However, they also noted that most current educational accountability models do not prioritize academic growth for all students. Analysis has shown that high-achieving students are not likely to receive appropriately challenging curriculum when minimum learning standards take precedence over academic growth for all students.
Parents Can Use This Information to Advocate for Gifted Program Services
These findings indicate that high-achieving students do not benefit from school as much as the typical student. Two avenues you could pursue meeting with a gifted program coordinator to examine your child’s progress and considering above level assessments to provide insight into the level of challenge that is appropriate for your child’s educational needs.
To ensure that your child is accessing possible opportunities for growth, investigate academic differentiation options, such as grade or subject acceleration, in your child’s school. Advocating for these services can help your child access opportunities for academic growth.
Seek Options Outside of School
If your child’s needs aren’t being met inside the classroom, activities outside the classroom, including non-academic activities, can help provide your child with opportunities for growth and to experience challenging environments.