Closing the growth gap: addressing the decline in growth in reading comprehension in high capacity students

Year: 2019

Author: Nibali, Nives

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Students who perform at the highest levels for reading comprehension are achieving the least growth. These high capacity students are the top 25% relative to their peers for reading comprehension, yet they show few or no gains compared to their class peers. The range of ability in most primary classrooms is wide, yet many teachers struggle to teach students of all abilities such that all students achieve equitable growth. This growth disparity appears to be independent of level of reading comprehension but dependent on student rank relative to the ability of peers. Issuing educational policy and resources reflect a focus on closing the achievement gap between lowest achieving students, minimum standards, and higher achieving peers. While the curriculum is generally pitched at the 50% of students in the middle range and the focus is on all students performing at least at these or minimal levels, the needs of high capacity students are not being met such that they are also being drawn toward the middle rather than progressing onward. While there is limited evidence that the achievement gap is closing, there is clear evidence that the growth gap is widening; lowest achieving students achieve the greatest growth and there is a decline in growth towards the highest achieving students where reading comprehension progress flat lines. The study twice assessed the reading comprehension of 789 Year 5/6 students to calculate growth over six months. 39 teachers were given the opportunity to complete the same assessment and respond to questionnaires about classroom practices. In classes with the most growth for high capacity students, all students made comparable growth in reading comprehension. What these teachers had in common was that they similarly use assessment, grouped students, targeted higher order thinking and were assessed at a reading level higher than that of their students. These characteristics are important to successfully targeting teaching regardless of the range of abilities in the classroom, and targeted teaching is important for equitable growth outcomes for high capacity students.