Studies of two middle school programs for high-achieving students show that being placed in programs with academically strong peers does not boost students' achievement over and above what is learned in a regular classroom from the start of 6th grade to mid-way through 7th grade, writes Education Next.
However, the authors of the report interestingly note that performance in science did increase.
Scholars from the University of Houston studied programs with a substantial minority and low-income population in the southwestern United States, where since 2007 all 5th-grade students have been tested for eligibility to participate in gifted and talented programming.
The report – "Poor Results for High Achievers: New evidence on the impact of gifted and talented programs" – measured student progress from the 6th to the 7th grade.
Data was drawn from their Stanford Achievement Test scores and attendance rates. Using data on 2,600 students the study shows no statistically significant impact on performance in math, science, language, reading or social studies.
The gains in science cannot be clearly explained through the data. The authors of the report suggest that instruction in science may require especially qualified teachers with access to excellent science facilities, something that may be more available in other programs than in regular middle schools.
The authors' report results from two separate studies:
One study looks at students who attended two magnet middle school programs that had an exclusive focus on high-achieving students. It found positive effects of attending the school on student performance on a science test. The effect was 0.28 standard deviations, approximately one extra year's worth of learning.
The other study examines the effects of participation in a Gifted and Talented program offered within regular middle schools to students who were just barely deemed eligible to participate as compared to those who just missed becoming eligible, based on the "identification matrix" scores the district used.
The authors caution that test scores are not the only way in which programs for high-achieving students should be assessed and there might also be benefits that they are not able to study, such as the impact on graduation rates and college attendance.
While the analysis of the programs within regular schools focuses only on students who are on the margin of entering a gifted program, the report makes for an interesting read.