California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

High expectations for all students

Another key finding from a study of high-impact schools is that staff members share high expectations for all students. In addition, the staff members are results-oriented and believe that all students can learn from a rigorous curriculum, instructional materials, and instructional practices that are aligned to the standards.1 This means that teachers collaborate to ensure that gifted students, average students, and those considered "at risk" all receive challenging and engaging grade-level lessons.

Research on youth resilience supports the call for high expectations.

"Perhaps more than any other variable, low expectations on the part of school staff have been correlated with poor student academic outcomes and vice versa: high expectations—with the support necessary to meet them—directly relate to positive academic outcomes … Schools which establish high expectations for all youth—and give them the support necessary to achieve them—have high rates of academic success. These schools also have lower rates of problem behaviors such as dropping out, alcohol and other drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and delinquency than other schools. Conveying positive and high expectations in a classroom and school environment occurs at several levels. The most obvious and powerful is at the belief level, where the teacher and other school staff communicate the message that the student has everything he or she needs to be successful . . . Schools also communicate expectations in the way they are structured and organized. The curriculum that supports resilience respects the way humans learn. Such a curriculum is thematic, experiential, challenging, comprehensive, and inclusive of multiple intelligences and multiple perspectives—especially those of silent groups. Instruction that supports resilience focuses on a broad range of learning styles; builds from perceptions of student strengths, interests, and experience; and, is participatory and facilitative, creating ongoing opportunities for self-reflection, critical inquiry problem solving, and dialogue."2


In the Spotlight

Mathson Middle School, Alum Rock Union School District, a 2006 On the Right Track School
Lee Mathson Middle School is one of the On the Right Track schools and districts making a difference in student achievement as recognized by the California Department of Education. Overall statewide testing results for the school exceeded the Academic Performance Index (API) targets for the entire student body and for the two main subgroups (Hispanic and socioeconomically disadvantaged).

Part of Mathson's success is based on the school's high expectations for all students. The high expectations at Mathson translate into a strategic focus on helping the large English-learner population. The schoolwide goal is to help each student who scored a 1 or 2 on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) make rapid progress by gaining three academic years of English language development within one year.


Parents, guardians, and other adults who care for individual students play a role in conveying high expectations for goal setting, rigorous study, and for allocating additional homework time when learning is difficult. Their children's prospects for future employment and California's economy rely on a commitment to high expectations and rigorous instruction and learning.

High standards help students develop self-confidence. "Self-efficacy is a critical component of developing one's identity and sense of self—the major developmental task of the adolescent years. If a large percentage of students do not score high in the asset of self-efficacy, this may indicate the prevalence of low expectations in your school."3

Related Links

High-impact schools    

Numerous avenues of support


1Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground (PDF; Outside Source). Washington, D.C.: Education Trust, November 2005, 8.
2Resilience and Youth Development Module: Aggregated California Data, Spring 1999—Spring 2002. Sacramento: WestEd and the California Department of Education Safe and Healthy Kids Office, 2002, 14.
3Ibid., 32.

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