In the United States, the default education strategy is to group students by age. This assumes that students who are the same age have similar learning needs as each other and will learn best when grouped in the same classroom together. However, a group of researchers recently assessed how many students perform above grade level. In other words, they looked at how many fourth grade students could, on the first day of fourth grade, demonstrate performance at the fifth grade level.

Obviously, the answer to this question will vary across grade levels and schools, as well as across states, which can often have quite different standards for determining what performing on grade level even means. To help account for such differences, the researchers analyzed five different data sets. Three data sets relied on data from different states (California, Florida, and Wisconsin) from many different grade levels, ranging from grade three up to grade nine. A fourth data set relied on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test that is offered in about 10 percent of all classroom throughout the United States. MAP data are particularly interesting because the test is computer-adaptive, meaning that the specific questions students are asked while taking the test change based on how they perform. The more questions students answer correctly, the harder the subsequent questions will be. Such adaptation allows high-performing students to actually be tested using questions that would otherwise only be used with older students.

The fifth data set the researchers used was the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test that is often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card. The NAEP test is the only longitudinal, nationally representative educational test. It is offered to a sample of fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade students, so the authors acknowledge that it does not directly answer the question of how many students perform above grade level. However, it does provide some context for how many fourth grade students perform equivalent (or better) to eighth grade students.

The results across all five data sets consistently showed that a large number of students perform above grade level. Although it varied somewhat across grade level and states, **they estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of students perform above grade level in reading and between 11 and 30 percent perform above grade level in math. **

The authors suggested that such findings had three primary implications. First, they suggested that because so many students perform above grade level, “Federal and state education policies focusing on grade level proficiency are irrelevant for a huge number of American students.” Second, they proposed, “The US K–12 context, which is organized primarily around age-based grade levels, needs serious rethinking.” Finally, the authors advocated, “States should require each district and school to report its percentages of above-grade-level performers and to disaggregate students’ average growth by starting scores.” They propose that such transparency and public accountability will help foster educational environments where students performing above grade level, and their educational needs, become visible.

What does your school and state do to *identify* whether students perform above grade level? And what is done to *serve* students who do? Do the administrators of your local school know how many students perform above grade level? Knowing may help provide a strong case for the creation or expansion of services for academically talented students.

You can download the paper as a PDF to read the full study.

Makel, M. C., Matthews, M. S., Peters, S. J., Rambo-Hernandez, K., & Plucker, J. A. (2016). How can this many students be invisible? Large percentages of American students perform above grade level.

Jack says

I been always good in ELA but the thing is a hated it and didn’t really try in 5th grade I actually listened to the teacher because I much of a bad kid pulling pranks on my parents and teachers and classmates.It was the first time I listened and didn’t get in trouble more than 5 times that school year in the middle I tried a ELA test both me and my teachers knew I was reading at 6 grade level and I was only in 5th grade. All I needed was to try I did the best in the class then we took a end of the year test to what level of math and reading level. In six grade in was on grade level on math but always got As so they told the above grade teachers to put me in above grade level next year. And in English I was In above grade wich was expected if your interest to know what levels we had here’s it is.There was below grade level on grade level above grade level than GT grade level and for math they went as high to above GT above is doing stuff ahead of every one on grade GT is 3 grades ahead and above Gt wich is only for math 4 grades above people on on grade.#Your smarter than you think just listen to the teacher and try its that simple.

Anonymous says

This article really grabbed my attention, because I feel that I can relate. Even though I am only thirteen years old, I have been told since Kindergarten that I was extremely gifted in ELA and writing. In my final reading exam for the first grade, I was reading at an eighth grade level, which was very unreal for my teachers and parents. It’s not like I realized that I was doing it, I would just find a book laying around my house that one of my parents was reading and I would take it to school for independent reading. When it was time for independent reading, I would pull out my book and begin reading.

J.M. says

Educators are promising aggressive efforts towards closing the achievement gap. Some schools are placing cluster groups of their highest achievers ( gifted students and highly gifted students ) with clusters of the lowest achievers ( at or below 25% in ability for their grade) in the same classrooms with a single teacher. This single teacher doesn’t posess certification for teaching gifted students and differentiation is absent for the advanced learners in this real-life scenario. Limiting access to appropriate education doesn’t save money. Holding back advanced students to create the appearance of equality is immoral and unethical, and it’s happening in our schools today.