But are schools really supporting and engaging students to develop their high level academic skills and talents, or are schools expecting that investment in students at this level happens elsewhere?
For decades in many schools, any instruction beyond grade level has mainly focused on extra work to keep students busy when they were done with grade level work, not always connected in content to support continued learning. Strategies to help advanced students also have included filling extra time with free choice or tutoring other students. While useful for the short term, a lack of strategy for advanced learning instruction beyond these disconnected experiences is not helpful for the advanced learner.
Also, meeting the needs of students found be talented in an academic area has often relied on extracurricular opportunities outside of the regular school hours. Clubs, activities and learning beyond the classroom filled the void while schools focused on the basics of instruction to help students meet grade level standards. While extracurriculars are important for helping students develop their talents, relying on such opportunities to meet advanced learning needs results in fewer opportunities to learn for students whose families may not have access, time or resources for these "extras".
Thus if the goal of every school is to address the learning needs of all students, this must include students who are performing above grade level standards at the start the year or who surpass grade level expectations during the year. It must also include finding students who may not appear to be advanced leaners but given the opportunity to try, could excel beyond the the expectations set by their test scores.
Without a systematic process to extend learning beyond grade level, teachers are left on their own to challenge students at the same time they must focus on students below proficiency. Many great teachers can do this, but districts should have a systematic process and supports to make it easier for teachers to address the range of learning needs in any classroom. That would go a long way toward supporting high achievement and not just celebrating it.