A major educational need or gifted and talented youth, as for all students, is for instruction in the basic skill areas and the standard or disciplines at a level and pace which challenges, but does not exceed, their potential.
Feldhusen and Klausmeier (1959), Klausmeier and Feldhusen (1959) and Feldhusen, Check and Klausmeier (1961) conducted a series of experiments in which they demonstrated that when a new learning task is selected at just the right level of student readiness, the skill or concept is learned well and will be more effectively remembered and generalized to other relevant problem situations. When a new task is to be learned, it is too difficult, students are frustrated; when it is too easy, they are bored and lose interest in learning.
Most teachers do some individualization to meet children's skill and conceptual levels. Some teachers are renowned for a high degree of individualization and efforts to adapt instruction to a broad range of levels while others keep all students in a lockstep at one common level. In general, therefore, a student's experience with individualized instruction may be haphazard from year to year.
Furthermore, few teachers are able to individualize sufficiently to meet the needs of gifted and talented students. Many are limited by school policy which prohibits them from securing and using higher level instructional materials. Additionally, teachers at higher grade levels sometimes complain that they will have nothing left to teach if teachers at lower grade levels cover the material.
The most appropriate educational provision for gifted and talented youth is a system of specifically designed classes which provide learning activities at an appropriate pace and level and which emphasize the process skills of critical thinking and research. Unfortunately this type of educational provision is not yet available to most gifted and talented youth. However, one of the more readily available educational alternatives for the intellectually or academically gifted student is grade advancement.
While it is rarely the case that the student would be advanced to a level which fits his or her grade equivalent scores on achievement tests, advancement of a year or two often brings the child closer to an appropriate level of challenge and pace and into contact with more intellectually stimulating peers.
While school personnel express great concern about possible social-emotional dangers in grade advancement, research indicates that the concern is usually unfounded, and that we should possibly be equally concerned about the social-emotional dangers of holding gifted students back in the lockstep of graded instruction.
Grade advancement studies are almost uniformly supportive of the procedure. A comprehensive review of the literature on grade advancement and its effects on children was undertaken by the authors and used as the basis for developing the guidelines presented in this article. Although space does not permit a discussion of those research reports, the entire bibliography is presented at the end of this article.
These studies support the following generalizations:
The major purpose of this paper is to present a practical set of guidelines for making grade advancement decisions. We believe that grade advancement decisions should be based on a more comprehensive individual assessment. An ideal response to a request for grade advancement would be to consider the following guidelines which have emerged from our experiences and our examination of the research literature.
Conversely, failure to advance a precocious child may result in poor study habits, apathy, lack of motivation and maladjustment.
Grade advancement is a method of acceleration which is available to every school system. For many school systems with limited resources, small student populations, or both, grade advancement may be the primary means available for adjusting the educational program to meet the educational and social- emotional needs of gifted and talented youth. For school systems with gifted and talented programs, grade advancement should be one of the services available along with other options which may be offered.
Grade advancement should be considered as one legitimate and valuable method of meeting the needs of the intellectually or academically gifted. When practiced wisely, students have been found to maintain their interest in school, excel academically, and complete higher levels of education. Thus, grade advancement benefits not only the child but society as well.
The guidelines presented here are based on insights from the research reviewed and from our own experiences as consultant psychologists in many cases of grade advancement decision making. The guidelines can serve to make the decision-making process more systematic and reliable educational service for gifted and talented children.
Permission to reprint this article was granted by the author and publisher, Roeper Review.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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