Valuing growth for all students

Guest Blogger

As part of the release of our new study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students, we are hosting a forum for experts to respond to its findings. Today's guest is ASCD's Jessica Hockett .

This report attempts to answer the critical and largely-neglected question of how high-performing students are faring in the NCLB-era classroom. The findings speak to the messy and inconvenient reality that individual students' abilities are not fixed, nor their development predictable. For better and worse, changes in a learner's academic achievement occur both?because and in spite of what and how he or she is taught.

Systematic reform efforts of the past two decades have fallen far short of encouraging teachers to expect the best from and provide high-end challenge for learners across the academic spectrum. Unfortunately, many children below, at, and beyond grade-level standards are settling for less than the highest quality curriculum and instruction in the name of serving struggling students well.

Our schools would surely see more growth at every performance level if educators were provided with training and support in how to teach all learners as though they were the highest of flyers. At minimum, all teachers should be equipped to plan lessons that emphasize conceptual understanding and application, leverage classroom-level formative assessment results, and use strategies that attend to individual differences. The culprit of stagnation and regression is not the academic diversity inherent in any classroom. Rather, it's a lack of sustained professional development on how to plan excellent instruction that grants all students access to increasingly sophisticated content and skills.

Emphasizing the stewardship of advanced abilities should also compel us to ?mind the gap? between talented children in our most and least privileged communities. Not surprisingly, Xiang and colleagues found that the highest-performing students in poor schools scored significantly lower on MAP assessments than their counterparts in wealthier schools, both initially and over time. The researchers applied a different definition of "high flyer" to these students, based on performance levels in their schools. This identifies a group that might otherwise be overlooked, but doesn't change the fact that very capable students in high-poverty settings still have??further to go? if they are to compete for slots at selective high schools, at colleges and universities, and in the workplace. Minimal growth is not nearly enough.

We've seen all too clearly over the past ten years that educational policies dictate tomorrow's educational practices. Both this report and other recent research on student achievement should convince us that now, more than ever, we need bold national, state, and local leaders who will work to honor the right of all students, regardless of initial altitude, to grow continuously toward and far beyond proficiency.

Jessica Hockett is an education consultant and Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) faculty member specializing in differentiated instruction, curriculum design for academically diverse classrooms, and education for gifted and talented learners. She has a PhD in Educational Psychology (Gifted Education emphasis) from the University of Virginia.

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