How much do schools matter? Using summer growth patterns to assess the impact of schools on high achieving and gifted students

Date of Completion

January 2011


Education, Tests and Measurements|Education, Gifted|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special




This study compared gifted and average students' growth in reading and mathematics. A cohort of third grade students from 2000 elementary schools were tracked over a 3 year period. Assessing the academic growth of gifted students has been problematic because of measurement error and ceiling-effects. This study used growth curve modeling to compare gifted student and average student growth over school and summer months on a vertically scaled, computer adaptive assessment. Using gifted students' growth over the summer as an estimate for how much gifted students learn in the absence of instruction provides a method for examining the efficacy of classrooms for gifted students and high achieving students. Contrasting summer and school year growth rates, we examined how schools change gifted and average students' trajectories. In reading, we found that gifted students showed little change in their trajectory from school-year to summer. By contrast, average students grew dramatically more during the school year than in summer. The school year rate for gifted students was slower than average students. Whatever these particular students did over the summer in reading was as beneficial as their time spent in school. However, in mathematics the distinction between school year and summer growth was more evident. Gifted students' growth in mathematics was slower than average students during the school year, but more similar to average students' growth rates over the summer. These findings support the use of alternative educational methods for gifted, such as acceleration and within class ability grouping, particularly for reading. Using Growth Mixture Models (GMM), I also conducted an exploratory analysis to determine how many and what types of patterns of growth occurred for students in reading and mathematics to see if the threshold that I used for identifying gifted students held empirically. The results indicated that there were seven reading classes and six mathematics classes. A high achieving class was only found in the mathematics GMM. ^