Do Programs for Advanced Learners Work?

Writing for the Fordham Foundation, Jonathan Plucker reviews the research on programs for advanced learners. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

Advanced learning programs are effective, and we have reams of research to support that conclusion. What follows is a rough summary of intervention research, listed from more to less evidence of effectiveness. For the purposes of this post, “evidence of effectiveness” is defined as research on positive student outcomes, broadly defined, with a bias toward experimental studies. 

Acceleration is one of the most-studied intervention strategies in all of education, with overwhelming evidence of positive effects on student achievement. See the resources from the Belin-Blank Center and this meta-analysis

Ability grouping: While findings are not as clear cut as acceleration research, studies find convincing evidence that flexible ability grouping is a net positive for the student learning of our most and least advanced students. The meta-analysis linked above found evidence within-class ability grouping was most effective for promoting advanced learning among various grouping strategies, and other studies suggest that flexible ability grouping may help close excellence gaps. The field’s growing research base on curriculum models can also be placed in this category, and studies suggest that pre-differentiated, prescriptive curricula leads to significant growth in advanced learning.

Enrichment: It is difficult to determine the actual impact of enrichment programs. Research shows mixed but generally promising results, especially for summer, residential enrichment—such as these examples here, here, and here

Selective high schools: Among the oldest strategies for advanced education are public high schools that selectively choose high-performing students based on entrance exam scores, hence the label “exam schools.” Despite the long history of this approach to advanced learning, very few experimental studies exist, and other sophisticated research designs often produce mixed-to-negative results (examples here and here). The issues surrounding exam schools are complex and controversial, with longstanding questions about diversity, or lack thereof, in these schools, the value-added for students, and their ability to close excellence gaps.

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