Let’s say you work with 4th graders and let’s say there are 30 students in your class (to make the math easy).

It’s the first day of school. **How many of your 30 fourth-graders can already read at at least fifth-grade level?** How many can already handle

*at least*fifth-grade math? Could any of them keep up with middle schoolers in reading? With an average high school student?

**Just how far could your highest ability students go if we didn’t limit them with “grade-level expectations”?**

Matthew Makel, Michael Matthews, Scott Peters, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, and Jonathan Plucker (boy how many Ph.D.’s does it take, huh?!) set out to get a handle on this: **just how many students are performing above their grade level** on day one of the school year?

### Above Grade-Level in Language Arts

The authors found that:

20-40% of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading

Oof. We’re not talking one or two students in your 4th-grade class, but six to twelve of your thirty students!

### Above Grade-Level in Math

It’s harder for students to get ahead in math because **we rarely give them the opportunities** (it’s a lot easier to just give a kid a more advanced book than teach them next year’s math content, right?).

And yet, *despite that:*

11-30% [of elementary and middle school students perform] at least one grade level above in math.

That’s between 3 and 9 of the students in your 4th-grade class who are already capable of at least 5th-grade math.

### How about Four Grades Above in Reading?

If this many of your 4th graders are already ready for 5th-grade work, how many are ready for *even more?* The authors found that:

8-10% of Grade 4 students perform at the Grade 8 level in [language arts]

Let that sink in. 1 out of 10 4^{th} graders could be reading at an 8^{th} grade level. That’s 3 students in a class of 30 reading four grades above!

### Four Grades Ahead *In Math?*

The authors found:

2-5% [of Grade 4 students] scoring at similar levels in math…

Again, take the caveat that kids rarely get to move as fast as they could in math and realize that, in a class of 30, you’ve still probably got a student who **is already four years ahead**.

### How Far Could They Go… If We Let Them?

So, we have to ask… **just how far ahead are our top students?** The authors counted up elementary students who can score above high school seniors:

…in 2013 alone, more than 400,000 Grade 4 students performed above the level of the lowest quarter of Grade 12 students in reading.

You could fill Yankee Stadium *eight times* with 4th graders who could perform better than the bottom quarter of 12th graders.

### Grades Ain’t Nothing But A Number

It’s my greatest annoyance when folks say to me: “well, my 2nd graders can’t do that” or “that seems like *a 5th-grade idea* but I teach 4th grade”. I hear it in **every workshop** I lead – even when I’m speaking to teachers who work *only* with gifted students.

Hopefully these findings illustrate why that mindset drives me up a wall: **grouping by grade level is an arbitrary choice**. The fact that a kid is in 4th grade tells you basically nothing about their ability. Some 4th graders can do “4th-grade thinking” but some can do 5th, 8th, or even 12th-grade thinking.

We should *never* limit students because of the grade number they happen to have. It makes as much sense as holding a student back from a certain book until they hit a specific height!

### Me, As A Student

Three personal stories to close out:

- As a first-grader, I was in a 1st through 3rd gifted combo. Sometimes I sat with the first graders. Sometimes I worked with the third graders. Sometimes I outperformed the third graders. Sometimes I learned from them. My teacher gave me what I was ready for. As a result, I could write in cursive and knew my multiplication facts in first grade.
*And I wasn’t the only one!* - When I was in 5th grade, I read the same books I read now as an adult.
*Literally the same books! (I just did a re-read of Jurassic Park)*When my dad finished a book (and deemed it appropriate), he handed it down to me. I ate it up. - My 6th-grade class performed Shakespeare’s
*Macbeth*in front of our elementary school. No “kid-friendly language” either — the real deal. I still remember my first line:*So foul and fair a day I have not seen!*

So, do read the whole paper and, this year, see *just how far* you can push your students, regardless of their age!

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