Tackling the question of growth for high-achieving students

MAP® Growth™ assessment data can help teachers determine where students are in their learning. It can answer the all-important question, “Is my student performing below, at, or above grade level?” It can also determine where they are in their learning in terms of percentiles or overall achievement compared to students across the country.

Recently, we received a question in our user community, NWEA Connection, that we thought was particularly interesting: “How does the MAP Growth assessment show growth for students already at 99 percent?” Explaining this to family members of high-achieving students can be challenging. One may assume these students can’t grow because they are already at the 99th percentile. Or it might appear that there is little or no growth when they are already scoring so high.

99th percentile doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to learn

There are six things to consider whenever we educators have a conversation about a high-achieving student’s growth with a parent or guardian.

  1. High-achieving students are having learning growth.
  1. A growth projection for high achievers is possible because their growth is based on students like them, that is, students who are also performing exceptionally well.
  1. When students meet their growth projection, they maintain their achievement status.
  1. Sometimes, small increments of growth (for example, a growth projection of two points) are good growth.
  1. Students don’t have to always meet growth projections to grow over time.
  1. What high achievers are ready to learn next can be found on multiple reports for teachers, including the Learning Continuum.

How to support high achievers

The question we need to ask about students in the 99th percentile isn’t, “Are they growing?” It should be, “Have students been brought into the conversation about their growth?” When a student is finding content easy and they are getting everything right, they can get bored. If we don’t engage them, we may implicitly be sending them a message that they are doing well enough because they find current content and learning easy. But we want every student exposed to appropriate learning challenges. This allows them to work in their zone of proximal development, or ZPD, which is critical if we want students to love learning and grow.

In my work as a professional learning consultant, I often ask teachers to reflect on how often they provide learning experiences that are aligned with students’ high achievement. Are they designing learning aligned with readiness? This does not mean that we must add a program or immediately develop a personalized learning plan. One way to think about this is through the lens of formative instructional practice. Once a student shows they are secure on current content, do we look carefully at the depth of knowledge opportunities on grade level prior to shifting to new content? Providing these opportunities at the right time, in the right measure, gives the high-performing student some of the challenge to learn that many of their peers experience. This is essential to their future learning because, at some point, they will be challenged by a concept or skill. Challenge also helps reduce boredom and increase engagement.

On the same page

Once a learning team—the student, their family support system, and their teacher—understand that high-achieving students can grow both on and, potentially, beyond grade level, and once they realize that together they can identify some specific concepts and skills to work on in and outside of class, the growth conversation becomes relatively easy and actionable. We have seen in different high-achieving groups that students who are provided the opportunity to have goal-setting conversations regularly—with specific learning outcomes connected to their readiness—get growth results that maintain their achievement level over time.

When students are blessed with academic gifts, we should pay close attention to the assessments we administer at each grade level and the resources we use to help kids grow. School districts and philosophies may differ, but offering high-performing students the support and instruction they need to grow takes commitment from the entire learning community. Consider the following discussion questions as you begin to think more deeply about this.

Questions for teachers

  • What are some things to consider before having a conversation with families about the growth of their high-achieving student?
  • In what ways do you partner with your students in conversations about their growth?
  • How can you involve students in growth conversations more?
  • In what ways do you already provide learning experiences that are aligned with high achievement?
  • What else could you do to provide more learning experiences that are aligned with high achievement?

Questions for leaders

  • In what ways do you support teachers in their communication to students and families about high achievement and growth?
  • How can you support teachers in their communication about growth for high achieving students more?
  • In what ways do you foster a culture where students and teachers regularly have conversations about growth?
  • In what ways do your teachers already support high achievement?
  • What is one specific step your school or district can take to help high-achieving kids understand growth—and achieve it?


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