New Report Suggests That Too Many Students May be “Under-Challenged” by School
By Jim Mills
NPR reports that a new policy study from Johns Hopkins University found that many more students across the U.S. were performing above grade level than was previously suspected. Jonathan Plucker of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth, and Matthew Makel, a researcher for Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, found that on one widely used multi-state assessment, 35 percent of beginning fifth-graders were already scoring at levels you might only expect by the end of the year. Looking at results from another assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), researchers found that the top 25 percent of fourth-graders outscored the bottom 25 percent of eighth-graders every year but one — for 26 years straight!
Many school districts have debated the value of programs for “gifted and talented” students – which barely function in MDUSD – but the needs of the top-performing five or ten percent are not the issue here. Increasingly, researchers are finding them many more students are unchallenged by their school work, and if the test data are to be believed, many of these students return to school in the fall already knowing much of what they are supposed to learn during the rest of the year.
Sone examples from their report:
- “At the end of the 2014–2015 school year, between 25 percent and 45 percent of Wisconsin students scored at or above the next grade level in the spring of their current grade.” For example, 38 percent of third-graders already knew enough to pass fourth-grade math.
- “Between 11 percent and 37 percent of California students scored at or above the next grade level in the spring of their current grade level.” For example, 34 percent of eighth-graders would have passed ninth-grade math.
- “Between 30 percent and 44 percent of Florida students scored at or above the next grade level in the spring of their current grade levels.” For example, 42 percent of seventh-graders would have passed eighth-grade reading.
School districts have an obligation to try to get all students to reach proficiency in key subject areas, and that means closing the gap for students who enter school with significant disadvantages and who may labor under continuing disadvantages throughout their school career. Low English language proficiency, poverty, disrupted home lives and other factors can present students with enormous barriers to overcome.
But districts like MDUSD, which are struggling with persistently low student achievement, cannot ignore the needs of the large group of students who are able to perform beyond grade-level expectations. As the Johns Hopkins study suggests, this concern is not limited to a small group of extraordinary students. Indeed, it appears that up to half of the students in some classes may be ready for far more challenging material. As we consider all of the challenges facing MDUSD, including the needs of disadvantaged students who are not being well-served by the district, we need to ask whether this large district is trying to do too much. And by trying to do too much, how many student needs, at all levels, are being left unmet?