ACT: Once ‘far off track,’ few catch up

Fourth and eighth graders who are “far off track” academically — more than a standard deviation behind — rarely catch up over four year, reports ACT.

Start early to close gaps in academic preparation, the report recommends. Some approaches, such as providing a “content-and vocabulary-rich curriculum,” will benefit all students in the early years. In middle and high school, however, educators should acknowledge that programs that work for on-track students may not work for those who are off track and vice versa.

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  1. It’s funny how it takes experts these days to tell us all something that was considered blatantly obvious 100 years ago.

  2. This should not be a shocker to anyone. Students who fall behind in grades K-5 are usually condemned to trying to play catch up with their peers (and usually failing outright).

    By the time the student reaches middle school, it’s usually too late to correct the lack of basic knowledge the student possesses in time for the student to actually catch up with his or her peers.

  3. As one of my kids’ elite travel team soccer coaches used to say: “You can’t stay in one place; either you improve or you fall behind, and if others improve more, you still fall behind.” That’s a given in sports and performing arts, which make no bones about the fact that some kids have more ability and/or motivation and that motivation cannot overcome ability. Only in academics, are ability and motivation seen as irrelevant.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      That’s the real rub, and I’m glad you pointed it out:

      It’s not just a matter of “catching up”. Anyone can do that. It’s a matter of “catching up” with someone who has already demonstrated that they’re moving faster than you are.

      That seems pretty much impossible, especially given that education is self-reinforcing, like compound interest. The more you have, the easier it is to get more.

  4. “A content- and vocab-rich curriculum in the early years will benefit all students”, yet the current k-5 curriculum and instructional methods seem to be deliberate avoidance of same. It appears that ES does not demand mastery of anything; thus dooming kids whose parents aren’t aware of the situation and/or are unable to provide remediation. “Afterschooling” is a recent phenomenon and it’s directly related to school-created deficiencies. Schools are not only doing nothing to curb the size of the Matthew effect, they seem to be doing their best to amplify it.

  5. Michael,

    As anyone will tell you, it’s much harder to hit a moving target (the classmates who are ahead of you, and pulling farther out in front) than a stationary one (which is where the emphasis seems to be)…

  6. Part of the reason for this is that low IQ students remain low IQ students.

  7. Off which track? There is the “fast track”, there is the STEM track, there is the college track, there is the graduate high school track, and there is the stay off drugs and not get pregnant tracks.

    For top athletic, dance, and music tracks, you have to start early, have some natural talent, get good coaching, and work hard. It’s easy to fall off that track, but you could fall off because of any of those reasons. One could have great talent, but if your teacher/coach fails to develop your skills properly, it will be all over.

    For the STEM track, however, the need for natural talent is far less critical, but math curricula and pedagody in K-6 create many kids who fall “off track”. I’ve seen it happen. The big tracking split usually happens in 7th grade. Those on the slow track rarely recover. They are not even close anymore. Career doors are slammed shut by seventh grade. This is not just brain power. This is not just hard work. It’s the damned lousy stinking math curricula, pedagogy, and low expectations in K-6.

    • Even worse, the same pejoratives apply equally to the rest of the ES menu. The mess is worse than useless; it’s actively working against real education.

  8. SteveH, having more than 30 years of work experience in a STEM career, I can tell you that the best individuals suited to this type of career are persons who enjoy solving puzzles and problems.

    As a general rule, students have a big misconception about what a career in a STEM field entails, and they don’t realize early in school that in most cases, it’s going to be a LOT of hard work, in many cases with few rewards or glory, and it might take 3-4 years after a associate’s/bachelor’s or certification track to get the reward of a position in the industry.

    I.T. is like any other field, we have the bell curve distribution when it comes to talent, like any other career field.

    • Should schools make judgments about STEM potential in K-6? How would that be done, by seeing if they like puzzles? If so, what do you do with that information? How do you decide whether test results reflect natural ability, pedagogy, rigor, or hard work? I’ve seen bright kids get to fifth grade not knowing the times table all because of Everyday Math, but some insist on not seeing any variable past IQ. As momof4 says, it’s not just math. Many parents do a whole lot of teaching at home. Otherwise, some educators might think that our kids are just not that smart. A few of my son’s K-6 teachers went out of their way to make sure my wife and I knew that he had a lot of “superficial knowledge”. There is more than a slight difference of opinion here about what constitutes a proper education.

      • Actually, there should be no choices being made about STEM in ES. In ES, students should know the multiplication table, should be able to read/write/spell properly, should have a basic understanding of science and the environment, basic knowledge of history and government, and so forth.

        I’ve never seen everyday math in use, but it would appear it’s responsible for ruining the math ability of a generation of students. I’d prefer schools start using Kumon or Singapore math, but that’s me.

        • “I’d prefer schools start using Kumon or Singapore math, but that’s me.”

          This is part of my “more than a slight difference of opinion” that I mentioned, and many educators don’t want to allow parents to have their own opinion even if they have spent a career in a math-related field.

          I had to use Singapore Math at home with my son even though he is “natural” (not automatic) in math. Everyday Math ruins kids because it puts the entire onus of mastery on the students as it spoon feeds the material using a spiral that I call “repeated partial learning”. I saw it in action for many years. There is no scaffolding in any loop of the spiral. Kids end up like Sisyphus pushing the math boulder up a hill only to see it roll down again. One mother I knew complained that her three kids were covering the exact same material in three different grades.

          Kids fall off track in math because too many gaps happen in K-6 that are not corrected. Double algebra and algebra with skills labs in high school are too late. You need many more pounds of cure. Better yet, start with good K-6 math curricula that offer many ounces of prevention.