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Report Gives States Poor Grades on Serving Low-Income, Advanced Students

Bright students from high-income families are more likely to succeed in school than their equally gifted low-income peers, who often backslide as they progress through school.

A lack of state policies supporting students who have the academic potential but lack financial means is contributing to this "excellence gap," a new report concludes.

The study, led by researchers Jonathan Plucker of the University of Connecticut, and Jennifer Giancola, of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which commissioned the work, found a "state policy vacuum," with no state receiving an A for its efforts to support this population. (The foundation supports coverage of high-achieving, low-income students in Education Week.)

The researchers conducted a review of state policies using nine district-level policies and nine measures of students outcomes to grade how states are serving high-achieving, low-income students.

"What is available for high-ability students primarily benefits those in wealthier school districts. The lost potential is staggering," said Harold Levy, executive director of the Lansdowne, Va.-based nonprofit scholarship organization in a press release.

Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities: A Report Card on State Support for Academically Talented Low-Income Students finds Minnesota has the best record for policies and student outcomes, earning a B- on the foundation's scale. (The report gives a snapshot of performance by state here.)

To determine how states are doing in serving this population, the report examined interventions aimed at helping low-income students excel, such as requiring identification and services for advanced learners. It also considered if a state offered concurrent enrollment programs or high school honors diplomas, among other factors. On the outcomes side, the foundation looked at student scores on NAEP math and reading tests, with special attention to the success of low-income students.

The report notes that more than half of children in public schools are now considered low-income and  student outcomes were worse in high-poverty states.

Among the foundation's recommendations:

  • Make high-performing students highly visible;
  • Remove barriers to acceleration for advanced students;
  • Ensure access to advanced educational services; and,
  • Hold local education agencies accountable for serving gifted students from all economic backgrounds.

The foundation plans to conduct this survey periodically with a larger set of indicators and data sources in the hopes of informing the conversation on how to best educate advanced students, according to the report.

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