Curriculum & Instruction

Yesterday, Fordham released a groundbreaking study examining the achievement of individual high-performing students?or ?high flyers??over time. While accountability systems today have placed primary emphasis on the performance of low-achieving students, scant research has examined the progress of high achievers. This new study begins to fill that void by investigating whether high achievers remain that way over time; whether those students who fall out of the high-achieving ranks fall far below; and whether high achievers demonstrate more progress over time than their middle- and low-achieving peers.

Before we dive into the first of those questions, a little background on the methodology. We tracked two cohorts of students over time: an elementary/middle school group from third to eighth grades, and a middle/high school group from sixth to tenth grades. In each group, we defined high-achieving students as those who ranked at or above the 90th percentile, based on an external norm. In other words, the study sample (comprising the two cohorts) and the normed sample were separate, meaning that more or less than 10 percent of the students in the study could perform at or above the 90th normed percentile. We examined student performance in math and reading.

Now, the first question: Do high achievers remain high-achieving over time?

The answer: A majority of high flyers remain that way over time, but substantial numbers ?lose altitude.? As shown in...

"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America’s highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”—and America’s future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.

What people are saying

"This study is important, very important!" - Jim Bohannon The Jim Bohannon Show

"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." - 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...

If America is to remain internationally competitive, we need to maximize the potential of our top students. Over the last decade, however, federal and state education-accountability systems?particularly in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001?have placed primary emphasis on moving low-performing students toward proficiency. The sanctions stemming from these systems have cast greater attention on schools that fail to attain proficiency for most students?a necessary and noble endeavor. But they have also fueled concerns that the academic needs of high-performing learners, who in many states are largely unaffected by accountability systems, have been neglected.

In order to maximize the potential of our above-average and top students, we first need to know who those students are, and where and when they're most likely to falter. But to date, few research studies have examined the progress of individual high achievers over time.

Today, Fordham took a leap in that direction with the release of a groundbreaking study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, the first ever to examine the achievement of high-performing students over time at the individual level. It poses?and seeks to answer?this straightforward question: Do students who outscore their peers on standardized achievement tests remain at the top of the pack year after year? Put differently, how many ?high flyers? maintain their ?altitude? over time? How many fall back toward Earth as they...

Guest Blogger

We asked a few experts to weigh in on our new study, "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students," as part of an online forum we'll be hosting on Flypaper over the next couple days. Here is a guest post by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

These results are distressing, but not surprising. As I note in my forthcoming essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania" (appearing Wednesday in National Affairs), the past decade's relentless focus on "gap-closing" has pushed all other considerations to the periphery. We have to make choices, but self-interest and a proper respect for all children demands that we wrestle at length with how we prioritize the needs of some kids over those of others. Yet "gap-closing" has become a reflexive, bipartisan project. Would-be reformers talk of little else and to even question the priorities of gap-closing is to be, at best, deemed ill-informed and, at worst, branded a racist.

Gap-closing has become the lexicon of federal officials and funders, of advocates and analysts. It has fueled funding priorities, shaped federal programs, driven policies, and informed practice. It has had real consequences and now we see, thanks to the careful efforts of Xiang et al., that some of these are problematic. (I'm curious what the results would have been if Xiang et al. had been able to examine the growth of high-flyers in subjects like science or foreign...

I gave up bashing teachers years ago, when I realized that, as with soldiers in the trenches, they had their hands full just staying alive. What I never understood, however, since this wasn't really a war, was why teachers seemed to hide behind their unions on so many school management questions, seemed to be as meek as mice on policy and pedagogy and curriculum issues, and were downright defensive about any criticism of them or their profession. And this was going to be my post, a few weeks ago, responding to Walt Gardner's letter to the editor in the New York Times, in which he opined that teachers ?deserve more than the unrelenting criticism they've endured since the accountability movement began.?

It's a worthy subject,? but I was turned from the ?unrelenting criticism? hokum by an email from New York City teacher Mark Anderson, with his announcement that ?A new school year begins! Here is the third post in my series on curriculum, in which I advocate for a unified core curriculum.?? His post is here and I read it with great joy, but I will get to that in a moment.

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In times of great uncertainty for U.S. teachers, who speaks for them?

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First, I must make mention of another welcome event; a trend, really, one reported on by Stephen Sawchuk in the current Education Week: ?New Groups Giving Teachers Alternative Voice.? Sawchuk leads with the obvious question,...

This week, teachers across the land are greeting students, assigning seats, issuing textbooks, struggling to remember everyone's name?and doing their best to teach one of the most challenging lessons of the year: the events of September 11, 2001, why they happened, why they matter, and why we are commemorating them.

[pullquote]The United States didn't come with a warranty. It has always had to be defended against real threats and bona fide enemies.[/pullquote]

All sorts of organizations (including ours) are jockeying to ease teachers' burden?and influence their instruction?by offering texts, activities, guidance, even entire curricula. Some of these are fine: accurate, thorough, balanced yet patriotic. (See, for example, lessons prepared for high school students by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.) Others, alas, are wimpy, biased, or apologetic and may well do teachers and pupils more harm than good.

The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its own dismaying contribution last week. Its ?9/11 Materials for Teachers? exemplifies the creeping tendency in educator-land?especially in the woeful field known as ?social studies??to obscure the true history of September 11 and focus instead on a slanted, garbled evaluation of what followed.

Teaching about 9/11 in 2011 click to readNo doubt Secretary Duncan's team wanted to be helpful to classroom instructors. Surely they felt an obligation to say something about 9/11. But what they ended up with illustrates both the...

Any number of organizations are offering advice about what to teach schoolchildren about the events of September 11, 2001, yet most sorely miss the mark. Fordham's publication, "Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know," highlights the danger of slighting history and patriotism in the rush to teach children about tolerance and multiculturalism. It combines ten short essays by distinguished educators, scholars, and public officials from our 2003 report, "Terrorists, Despots, and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know," essays that feel more timely than ever, and includes a new introduction by Chester E. Finn, Jr. reflecting on how the lessons of these essays apply today.

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