Late bloomers are rare

Children’s academic future is decided by third grade: Average students rarely turn into high achievers in later years. So warns K5 Learning after re-crunching the numbers in Fordham Institute‘s study, Do High Flyers Maintain their Altitude? (pdf.)

Graph of likelihood of becoming a high achiever in math in grade 8 vs grade 3 math achievement

While Fordham looked at progress for children in the top 10 percent, K5 Learning looked at the also-rans.  Children who performed in the bottom 1/3 in reading or math in grade 3 had less than a 1% chance of being high achievers by grade 8.  Even average students in grade 3, (between 40 and 60 percentile) had less than a 5% chance of becoming high achievers later.

Kids performing in the 60-70 percentile range in grade 3 had about a 8-9% chance of becoming high achievers by grade 8.

“High achiever” is defined as scoring in the 90th percentile or above in reading and math. It is possible to have a decent life with less exalted performance.

K5 Learning provides “reading and math enrichment.” If you hire a tutor, will your 60th percentile second grader turn into a Harvard-bound third grader? There are no guarantees.

 

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Comments

  1. It really should be noted that since we’re talking about percentile ranks (making this a zero-sum game) rather than absolute achievement, if lots of low performers were becoming high performers, we’d be worrying about how high performers are dropping down at an alarming rate.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Absolutely true, Tom West.

    I dislike percentage-rankings for that reason: it tells you nothing about whether there’s a problem, because someone has to be in the bottom 10% of every group, no matter how excellent they may be.

    Somewhere, there’s the bottom 10% of Navy SEALS, and the bottom 10% of Delta Operators. What’s their bloody problem?

    • I dislike percentage-rankings for that reason: it tells you nothing about whether there’s a problem, because someone has to be in the bottom 10% of every group, no matter how excellent they may be.

      In this case, I’m not sure that’s a valid criticism.  If the “late bloomers” were really catching up, some would e.g. knock someone else from the 90th percentile to the 89th.  The observation that this is very rare proves that the “late bloomers” are not making up for lost time compared to the high-flyers; they’re almost always slower and will remain behind.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      FYI, the study uses the 10% cut-line for the nation as the definition for “high achiever,” not 10% of the students being studied. This allows for more (and less) than 10% of the students to be scored as high achievers. Page 2 of the report says:

      high achievement ought not be a zero- sum game, whereby some students are kicked out of their lofty rank to make room for others. (In this study, we define high achievers as those students who score at the 90th percentile or above according to external norms, but allow for as many students within the subset being tracked to enter those ranks as qualify to do so.)

      later on the page they note:

      For instance, the percentage of high flyers in math at the elementary/middle school level grew from 12.4 percent of all third graders to 14.1 percent in eighth grade.

  3. ” If you hire a tutor, will your 60th percentile second grader turn into a Harvard-bound third grader? ”

    Depends. Is he a great baseball pitcher?

    Some really bright students won’t score as well as one might expect on early standardized tests, because they tend to “overthink” the questions. That sorts itself out in time. I don’t think the tutoring services will point that out.