K5 Learning Analyzes Troubling ‘High Flyer’ Data

Last month the Fordham Institute released Do High Flyers Maintain their Altitude?, an examination of the performance of high achieving students. New data shows that students who are not performing well above average in reading and math by grade 3 are highly unlikely to ever become academic high achievers, writes K5 Learning in a guest blog at the Education Gadfly.

K5 Learning offers an online reading and math program for K-5 kids and in this massive study of tens of thousands students, they found that children who performed in the bottom third in reading or math in grade 3 had less than a 1 percent chance of being high achievers by grade 8.

Even average students in grade 3 had less than a 5 percent chance of becoming high achievers later.

A high achiever in grade 3 math was 17 times  more likely to be a high achiever in grade 8 than an average grade 3 student, and  142 times more likely than someone who was performing in the bottom third of students in grade 3.

The results were similar for reading:

Kids performing in the 60-70 percentile range in grade 3 had about a 8-9 percent chance of becoming high achievers by grade 8, still 6-7 times less likely than the stars in grade 3.

Kids performing in the 70s and 80s percentiles in grade 3 became high achievers in grade 8 only about 1/3 to 1/2 as often as the kids who were already in the top 10 percentile in grade 3.

The study found similar correlations between grade 6 and grade 10 achievement levels.

It is generally accepted that the top high school students go to the best universities and dominate the best jobs, writes K5 Learning.

2009 McKinsey study found that a top quartile student in grade 8 is almost 6 times as likely to get a bachelor’s degree, and that success in school is highly correlated with lifetime earnings, with 70 percent of top earners having at least a bachelor’s degree.

Preschool language ability has been estimated to account for 90 percent of individual differences in children’s language ability in kindergarten, with differences in kindergarten accounting for 96 percent of the differences in grades 1-2, and differences in grades 1-2 accounting for 88 percent of the differences in grades 3-4.  This trend appears to continue in the later grades, writes K5 Learning.

“We see learning as a continuum, and believe that those high achievers walking through the gates of top universities start with early learning, get challenged in the primary grades (enrichment classes, after-school learning, etc.), and keep excelling throughout their young lives.”

“Despite the ample evidence of the importance of early learning, many parents are not proactive enough during the preschool years, and pursue little supplemental learning after kindergarten begins.  Extra studying after school?  We have heard it a thousand times: Let kids be kids, they’ll catch up later.”

The sample size of this study, with 93,182 elementary reading students and 81,767 elementary math students, is so large, and the correlations so strong, that arguments over demographic issues, problems with standardized testing and so on can be set aside, leaving a clear message to parents:

“If you want your children to have a decent chance of going to a good university, then you need to make sure they develop the best reading and math skills they can by the time they are 8 years old.”

From books to tutors to online learning, the tools are out there, says K5 Learning. “But it is up to parents to make education a priority in their children’s lives from the earliest days.”