Federal and state level education policies that focus on grade-level proficiency are failing millions of students across America and putting the nations future prosperity at risk, a new policy brief has found.
The publication from the Institute for Education Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Education sought to challenge the current methods for measuring student proficiency, which are based on the traditional placement of students into grades that correspond to their age.
The authors posed a question: ‘How many students perform above grade level?’ — a crucial question for policy makers and school administrators to consider, especially given that data on the topic is limited.
Even more surprising is the fact that when asked the question, professionals in the sector could not answer.
The results of the research are astounding, with 20-40 percent of students in elementary and middle school outperforming their current grade by at least one grade level in reading. In mathematics, 11-30 percent of students score at least one grade level above their current grade.
“Overall, somewhere between 278,000 and 330,000 public-school Wisconsin students across grades K-12 are performing more than a full grade above where they are placed in school. In the much larger state of California, across grades K-12 somewhere between 1.4 million and 2 million students are currently performing more than a full grade level above where they are placed in school”.
The authors also found that:
“… 8-10% of Grade 4 students perform at the Grade 8 level in reading/English/language arts, with 2-5% scoring at similar levels in math…one out of every ten fifth graders is performing at the high school level in reading, and nearly one child in 40 at this age is performing at the high school level in mathematics”.
The overall results are sobering and generate a sense of urgency for policymakers to take action.
The results show that key to understanding the depth of the issue is the need for enhanced transparency on absolute numbers and percentages of students who are out-performing their grade.
The authors also suggest that students would be better served by examining the possibility of whole-grade or single-subject acceleration.
Placing students in classrooms based on their age and focusing on bringing students up to grade-proficiency is a historic notion that needs to be challenged, the report suggests. The current system is inadequate for the vast number of students who are already out-performing their grade.
Action on these issues is timely so that current and prospective students get the most from their education and reach their full potential. Until change occurs at the policy level, education professionals are tasked with the tough job of finding innovative ways to balance the needs of their students, who are at varying levels of proficiency.
The authors examined and compared grade level proficiency data from Wisconsin and California, states that have aligned education standards with the Common Core, against Florida, a state using an adapted version of the Common Core known as the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). Data from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were also examined to determine how many students were above grade level.
A copy of the full policy brief has been made available online.