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Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude?

October 14, 2011

We already know that, under No Child Left Behind, gifted students as a group are being left behind, thanks to a 2008 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study, “High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB”. Now the Fordham Institute has gone a step farther and measured the progress on an individual student basis and published their results in the report, “Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude?

Key excerpts:

  • “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 make their way through school, losing the academic edge they once enjoyed?”
  • “Finding #1. A majority of high flyers maintained their status over time, but substantial numbers “lost altitude.” “There are real consequences for graduates who descend from the 90th to 70th percentile in terms of merit-based aid and choice of college.”
  • “Finding #2. Most Descenders don’t fall too far….Most stayed at the 70th percentile or higher.”
  •  “Finding #3. High flyers grew academically at similar rates to low and middle achievers in math, but grow at slightly slower rates than low and middle achievers in reading.” [See the chart on page 13 of the report.] “One could be dismayed by the “leveling” at work.”
  • “If we are truly serious about providing excellence in education for all students, then we should consider changing accountability systems to place emphasis on the growth of low-, middle-, and high-achieving students alike.” In other words, instead of measuring Average Yearly Progress, we should measure Individual Yearly Progress.

My thoughts:

  • This report highlights why it is important to identify gifted students by third grade and then provide an accelerated, challenging curriculum for them. [See the chart of page 11 of the report.] If not, 2 out of 5 will lose momentum.
  •  It also highlights why it is important to continue to identify gifted students after third grade. Some kids are just late bloomers.

Want to hear more?  Fordham Institute is hosting a panel discussion about 3 recent publications on achievement gap mania.

Learn about the recent studies–Fordham’s Do High Flyers Maintain their Altitude? and the George W. Bush Institute’s Global Report Card—as well as Frederick M. Hess’s new National Affairs essay, “Our Achievement-Gap Mania.” And join a conversation about whether our focus on raising the bottom is blinding us to trouble at the top.

This event will be webcast. There is no need to register for the webcast – simply visit their website,, at 2 p.m. MST on October 17 and watch the proceedings live.

One Comment leave one →
  1. She-Bear permalink*
    October 17, 2011 6:51 pm

    Here’s another person’s take, after reanalyzing the data: “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.”

    Read the whole analysis at

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