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Summer Growth Patterns in Gifted Students
Recently, I completed the final draft of my dissertation looking at the impact of schools on high achievers (by comparing the summer growth to school year growth). I uncovered some stunning results which are shared below, but I will just summarize some of the results. I will not address the technical details of the methods and design.
Impacts on students based on varying levels of achievement
In short, I wanted to see if schools have different impacts on students who come in with varying levels of achievement. I looked at how students grew over the summer (MAP score in the spring minus MAP score in the fall) and compared that to how students grew during the school year (MAP score in the spring minus MAP score in the fall). I suspected that students with higher initial scores would grow less during the school year compared to average students. This difference between high and average scoring students could be explained in a couple of ways: either the kids initially scored too high (got lucky); or the classroom instruction wasn’t providing enough challenge for the kids with initially high scores. I also suspected that the higher starting students would grow more over the summer compared to average students.
No change in reading growth over summer
I found that, for initially high achieving elementary kids, there was essentially no change in reading growth from the school year to the summer. In other words, these high-scoring kids learned just as much over the summer as they did during the school year (even after taking the kid’s gender, ethnicity, the percent of kids receiving free or reduced lunch at their school, and the average MAP starting score for their school). Of course, there were exceptions and some students did not follow this pattern and learned more during school. By contrast, the average scoring kids showed what we would expect- high growth during the school year and essentially no growth over the summer.
High achievers show lower growth during the year
These high achieving kids showed much lower growth during the school year compared to average kids. However, the high achieving kids kept growing at their same slow pace over the summer. Based on this, it appears that our schools are doing no better for the highest kids in reading than whatever these kids are doing during the summer. Again, there were exceptions. In some cases, the average kids grew more than three times as much as initially high achieving kids over the same amount of time.
Conclusions and Speculations
I have some speculations as to why this happened.
- Kids can easily keep reading over the summer. If they are reading at a comfort level (as opposed to a challenging level) in both the school year and summer, that would explain the results.
- Some of these students are reading at grade levels three years above their average peers. It seems like a lot to ask teachers to teach a classroom of students who range in reading level by three grade levels or more when you take into account that there are students who come in below grade level.
What’s the solution?
Some of the potential solutions:
- Allow the really high achieving students to go to a higher grade for reading instruction
- Have teachers group the higher ability students together in their classrooms for more specific instruction tailored to these kids’ needs.
We have all had those kids in our classroom. They are so far ahead of everyone else that they can be hard to keep challenged. So, what do you think? How can we make sure that the kids who start out the highest grow in reading at paces that are more consistent with their abilities?
About the author
Karen Rambo is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut and received a data award from the Kingsbury Center to look at summer growth patterns to assess the impact of schools on high achievers. She will receive her degree in June 2011. Starting this fall, she will be an assistant professor in research and assessment in the School of Education at Colorado State University.