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Study: Smart Kids Are Being Held Back

1 ¾ min

The last several years have seen a number of parents reporting that their child is not being challenged by the local public school. Naturally, some may want to take these reports with a grain of salt, knowing that parents can easily overestimate the abilities of little Jimmy.

But a new study out of Johns Hopkins University suggests that parents may not be viewing their children with rose-colored glasses. In fact, their children really are capable of learning far more than the schools are teaching them.

Drawing on statewide test scores from Wisconsin, Florida, California, the study examined more widespread examinations such as those from The Nation’s Report Card. Much to their surprise, researchers discovered that large percentages of students in elementary and middle school were scoring at least one grade level above the grade they were enrolled in. The chart below singles out the Wisconsin students who tested above grade level in English Language Arts.

Wisconsin Students Above Average

In summarizing the data from all of the tests, the researchers declared:

“[W]e estimate that 20-40% of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading, with 11-30% scoring at least one grade level above in math.”

Such startling findings lead the Johns Hopkins team to wonder if the U.S. needs to reconsider its age-segregated education system.

C.S. Lewis would likely agree. In his 1959 essay, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Lewis mocked the egalitarian trends in public schools:

“The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be ‘undemocratic’. … Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma … by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his school career….”

Is it time we stopped holding the smart kids back?

Image Credit: Konrad-Adenauer-Gemeinschaftshauptschule Wenden

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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Christa Barnhizer
Yes, it's time we stopped holding kids back. I can't say I'm at all surprised at the current problem, seeing how much schools have dumbed down their curriculum over the last 3 decades. Every so glad I homeschooled my kids - it drove them nuts when people asked what grade they were in, because they'd have to ask, "In which subject?" since I just taught them as much as they were capable of understanding, regardless of their actual age. Students would be better off if they were grouped more by ability than by age, and allowed to progress at their own speed. They'd learn to get along and have friends of many different ages, too, instead of being exposed only to their own age cohort and looked on as weird for having friends younger or older than they are.


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