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Are 9th graders smarter than everyone else?

11:36 PM, Dec 9, 2010   |    comments
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"It's like an intellectual tsunami," said Jo O'Brien, assistant commissioner of education in charge of assessment.

Students in the Class of 2014 have scored higher than kids in other grade levels in reading, writing, and science. At first, O'Brien thought it was just a statistical anomaly, until it happened again and again.

"This is three years in a row, the same class across the state," said O'Brien.

When these students took the CSAP in 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade, O'Brien says they were bucking the trend of where students typically score. The odd thing, O'Brien adds, is that this is true in no matter the school, no matter the town, no matter the district.

"It's fun to watch, but it would be even more great if we could discover how," said O'Brien.

Turner Browne is a 9th grader at Lakewood High School. He says tests have always come easy to him.

"All my friends have said 'Wow, that test was really stressful' and I've always had to go, 'Yeah, I think it - no it wasn't,'" said Browne.

He's always believed studying and school work were important. But, when told about the scores of the Class of 2014 Brown said, "I don't have an answer for that. It's so mysterious."

O'Brien jokes that scholars should look at all possibilities.

"Something in conception; something in the water; something about that year," said O'Brien.

The year when most 9th graders were born was 1996. Could it be that kids born that year are just plain smarter?

"I've been here about 20 years and that's happened before," said Greg Davis, teacher at Lakewood High School. "Seems to be cyclic."

Davis says some grade levels just seem to have their acts together compared to other grade levels. He says when the freshman class started this year, he noticed right away that they were more on-task.

"The phenomenon is older than the CSAP," said Davis.

Metro State Associate Professor Carmen Sanjurjo says there were no significant academic policy changes that explain a boost in scores for 2014. The CSAP test did change over the years, but while the scores of other grades went down with the new test, the Class of 2014 scores went up.

"What did they watch on television? What are they listening to?" said Sanjurjo.

Turner's mother Claudia wondered about similar factors.

"When you first told me, I was thinking what happened different when they were younger?" said Claudia Browne. "Did they start watching more Sesame Street or less Sesame Street?"

Actually, the big shows when these kids were growing up were Teletubbies and Barney the Dinosaur. The year they were born was the year of the Macarena; a year of an unusual dip in sun spots; the year when scientists first cloned a sheep; and the year when scientists first discovered ancient life in a Martian rock.

"If anybody has studied it, it's going to be the Chinese," said Claudia Browne. "You should look and see that they say."

The Chinese use a 12-year zodiac cycle with animals representing certain years and certain personality traits. The year that Turner and his classmates were born was "The Year of the Rat." Chinese legend states that in a heavenly contest, the rat outsmarted the other animals to win the race. So, intelligence is a strong characteristic of kids born under the sign of the rat.

"You can train them to do mazes and stuff," said Turner. "Maybe we've just been brainwashed to do mazes and do CSAP well."

Sanjurjo laughingly dismisses that notion.

"I can't say that as a Metro State professor," said Sanjurjo.

Whatever the reason, it's a mystery O'Brien wants to solve.

"Because we want to replicate this," said O'Brien.

Davis wonders if it is something than can be replicated.

"I'm not sure they're smarter," said Davis. "I think they're better prepared."

Turner says that could be the real answer - then again -no one will ever really know.

"It could be that we're more focused and on-task," said Turner. "It could that our parents and peers are pushing us more."

Typically, when 9th graders enter high school, their test scores dip because of the adjustment to high school. O'Brien predicts this year, this class will beat the odds for a 4th year in a row.

"I'm counting on it," said O'Brien.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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