Dr. Wilma Vialle lectures in Educational Psychology at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research interests are predominantly in giftedness and cultural diversity. Currently, she is investigating the qualities of teachers of the gifted. Tracey Ashton completed her Bachelor's Honors degree with a focus on gifted students. She is currently teaching at an elementary school in New South Wales. Greg Carion is a science teacher at a selective school in New South Wales. He has completed a Master's degree specializing in gifted education. Florence Rankin is currently Head of Child Studies in a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) site in New South Wales. She has completed a Master's degree specializing in gifted education.
There are few words that more readily bring forth debate in educational circles than the word acceleration. Much of the controversy surrounding the concept, however, can be linked to teacher beliefs and attitudes that have little or no support in educational research. Although acceleration can take several forms, many teachers and administrators associate the word with radical acceleration or multiple grade skipping. In Australia, teachers' resistance to acceleration is often expressed in terms of the so-called problem of students completing school early and not being mature enough for university life. Popularized caricatures such as the television character Doogie Howser fuel this fear and become the focus for much of the skepticism of the value of acceleration as a viable educational option for gifted students. The prevalent attitude for many teachers and administrators in Australia is still one of "early ripe, early rot."
Despite the widespread misgivings of many Australian teachers and administrators, the literature on acceleration (Benbow, 1992; Gross, 1992; Kulik & Kulik, 1991, 1992; Swiatek, 1993) demonstrates positive academic attainments for accelerants. As Benbow (1992) stated, acceleration is "a program option that is best supported by research findings conducted over a span of 60 years [but] it is still infrequently used and often met with skepticism" (p.3). Studies conducted in the United States and Australia repeatedly reflect this pattern of support for acceleration in the research but resistance to acceleration in practice. A recent study in Germany found a similar pattern of negativity towards acceleration practices in that country (Heinboket, 1997).
In 1991 in New South Wales (NSW), the government released a policy on gifted students that recommended acceleration at every stage of schooling as one option for gifted students (NSW Department of School Education, 1991). A comparatively recent survey reported by Bailey (1997), indicated the growing number of cases of acceleration in NSW through early entry, subject acceleration and grade skipping since the release of that policy statement. The majority of these acceleration instances, however, occurred in metropolitan areas of New South Wales; other regions of the state continued to resist implementation of the policy (McGrath, 1994). As indicated earlier, many teachers believe that the social and emotional needs of students should take precedence over their academic needs, a concern described nearly two decades ago by Daurio (1979). This apparent dichotomy in the minds of teachers not only neglects the research evidence cited earlier but also overlooks the reality that the social and emotional well-being of students is inextricably related to-not separate from-their cognitive needs (Goleman, 1995; Gross, 1993). To separate the social and emotional from the cognitive needs of a student is to ignore current understandings regarding the nature of thinking and learning.
This article describes three studies on acceleration conducted in the South Coast region of NSW, an area in which instances of acceleration have remained at relatively low levels (McGrath, 1994; Rankin & Vialle, 1996). The first project involved an investigation of the NSW Early Entry policy for gifted children; the second reports on the experiences of students who have skipped at least one grade; and the third examines a vertical programming system that allows students to accelerate within subjects at an academically selective high school.
Attitudes toward Early EntryEarly Entry is the term given to the procedure that allows children aged four years to enter kindergarten rather than at age five which is the norm. The procedure was given government policy approval in 1991 (NSW Department of School Education, 1991 a). Despite the policy support, teachers and administrators have generally opposed the policy in practice, primarily because of their beliefs that the children were not adequately screened and were too immature to function well (Braggett, 1984). The negative attitudes towards early entry, as indicated earlier, have been largely based on misconceptions and anecdotal evidence rather than empirical data (Butterworth & Constable, 1982). Mares and Byles (1994) indicated that early entry is successful if the school selection procedure is thorough, and the teacher is aware of the needs of gifted children and has a positive attitude to the child's placement.
While there is no research evidence to support the argument that if gifted children enter school before 5, they will suffer serious disadvantage later in their schooling (Butterworth & Constable, 1982), a disproportionately small number of children have been enrolled early in NSW's South Coast regional schools compared to other regions in the state (McGrath, 1994; Rankin & Vialle, 1996). For example, in 1994, Metropolitan North (a region in Sydney) with 168 schools enrolled 22 children while the South Coast region with 174 schools enrolled five (Rankin & Vialle, 1996). In order to determine the reasons for these smaller numbers, Rankin and Vialle (1996) conducted a survey to investigate principals' attitudes towards the early entry of gifted 4 year olds into schools. The questionnaire sought details concerning the screening procedures used by the school, the influence of parents and preschools on selection, program provisions for gifted children, the principal's attitudes to early entry, and impediments to the procedure in their schools. The survey was sent to the principals of all 63 primary (elementary) schools in the region. Twenty-seven questionnaires were returned, representing a response rate of 42.85%. In order to investigate the low response rate, the researchers contacted 24 of the nonrespondents. In each case, the principals stated that they had not responded to the survey because they had not processed any applications for early entry and therefore had no comments to make.
Twenty-five schools indicated that they offered early entry while two principals stated that the procedure was not available at their school. Of the 25 schools offering early entry as an option, however, only 10 schools reported that they had received applications for the procedure. Nominations for early entry were instigated exclusively by parents. Further, only three of these ten schools had actually enrolled children-one of which enrolled five children-while the remaining seven schools had rejected all the applications they had received. Of the 15 children who had been screened for early entry, 7 were admitted and 8 were rejected.
It was interesting to note that five out of the seven children enrolled were of non-English-speaking background (NESB). Given that the literature shows that NESB children are much less likely to be nominated as gifted by their teachers (O'Tuel, 1994; Vialle, 1994; Zappia, 1989), the researchers conducted follow-up interviews with the 10 principals to gain some insights into this phenomenon. Eight principals reported that NESB parents were more likely to seek early entry for their children and stated that such requests were usually motivated by financial considerations rather than educational ones- in NSW, public schooling is free but child care centers charge fees. Additionally, four of the five NESB children were accept- ed at one school where the assistant principal was completing a doctorate in gifted education. In this instance, the principal had delegated authority to the assistant principal who conducted all the interviews with the children and their parents and asked for examples of the children's problem-solving skills in the home context. She also arranged to observe the children completing a range of activities included in the kindergarten curriculum. Following her collection of evidence, the assistant principal deemed that the four children were appropriate candidates for early entry. This example highlights the effect that training in gifted education can have on the school's acceptance of special provisions for gifted students.
Several reasons were cited for nonenrollment of early entry candidates with an indication that both parents and principals were responsible for making the final decisions not to enroll the children. Nevertheless, this survey indicated reasonably high rejection rates by principals with 7 out of 10 principals who had processed applications, rejecting all candidates, and a further 11 of the remaining 17 respondents indicating that they were unlikely to admit early entry candidates. Although this was not as conclusive as Whan's (1993) finding of a 98% rejection rate by principals in a metropolitan area of NSW, it nevertheless demonstrated a strong resistance to early entry on the part of principals in the South coast region of NSW.
The most common reason that children were rejected for early entry, cited by 23 of the 27 respondents, related to the social and emotional development of the child. Their views were encapsulated in this comment from one principal: "The socialization process and the ability to get along with one's peers is far more valuable to a child's progress than any academically gifted program at this stage of [his or her] development."
This attitude agrees with other reports of practitioners' uninformed assumptions about the social and emotional adjustment of early entrants (Heinbokel, 1997; Southern, Jones, & Fiscus, 1989). Such views are in direct contrast to the literature on early entry that clearly demonstrates that early entrants are at least equally well adjusted if not more so than their peers (Proctor, Black, & Feldhusen, 1986; Reynolds, 1962; Robinson & Weimer, 1991; Stanley, George, & Solano, 1977; Van Tassel-Baska, 1986).
The surveyed principals also commented that parents wanted their children to "fit in," to progress at normal rates and to avoid the problems of "early exit." Eleven principals stated that the immaturity of the child and their physical size were reasons for nonenrollment. Given other research findings in the field, it was not surprising that lack of academic ability was the least important reason cited for rejection of early entry candidates. Only two principals cited this as a reason for not enrolling a child.
Another probable factor in the low early entry figures for the region was the principals' general lack of familiarity with the policy - 20 principals indicated that they were aware of the policy but were unfamiliar with all the recommendations. Four principals, however, expressed their particular opposition to the policy, as indicated by the following comment from one: "I must say that I am personally opposed to the concept of early entry. In fact, my experience has been such that I would welcome the opposite approach, i.e., later entry."
The survey provided evidence that the major factor in preventing young gifted children from entering school early was related to unsubstantiated fears by the region's principals for the social and emotional well being of the children concerned. It is clear that a great deal of specialist training in the needs of gifted children will need to occur before policies such as the Early Entry policy can be implemented and provide an important avenue for the gifted children it is designed to serve, a finding that echoes the conclusions of McCluskey, Massey, and Baker (1997).
The Experiences of AccelerantsThe second study was conducted by Ashton (1994) under the supervision of Vialle. The purpose of this study was to explore the academic, social and emotional effects of acceleration on students who had skipped at least one grade. A multiple case study format was adopted in an attempt to derive detailed information about the students, their experiences of acceleration and their perceptions of the effects of their acceleration experiences. Six students from the South coast region of NSW were approached by Ashton and Vialle, with five agreeing to be part of the study. An Attempt was made to maximize the differences among the case studies so that any features common to the students' experiences would be more striking. The students ranged in age from 6 to 16; three were males and two were female; they came from different socioeconomic backgrounds and one was from a non-English-speaking background. Four of the students had skipped one grade but one student had skipped a number of grades during his schooling. Data were gathered over a seven-month period in 1994 and comprised multiple interviews with the students, their families and their teachers, along with school reports and standardized test results. The interview data were transcribed and coded for emerging themes that became the basis for the conclusions drawn from the study.
To place the conclusions of this study into perspective, the five case studies are briefly reviewed. Pseudonyms selected by the students are used to protect their confidentiality.
Fatih. Fatih was 11 years old and in Year 7 at the local academically selective high school at the time of the study. Of non-English-speaking background, Fatih's giftedness was first recognized by his Year 4 teacher who acted as his advocate in having him accelerated from Year 4 to Year 6. The Year 4 teacher, who had completed post-graduate studies in gifted education, became his teacher in Year 6 also and she kept detailed records of his social, emotional, and academic progress throughout the year. Fatih, his parents and his teacher reported that prior to acceleration, Fatih was unchallenged by his school work: "I could do all of it.... The work was not as challenging as the work I am doing now" (Faith, 8/8/94).
Socially, Fatih was affected little by the acceleration experience as most of his friends prior to his acceleration were older than him. Emotionally, Fatih and his parents reported that he was far happier in school and enjoyed the work he was undertaking. His only regret was that the acceleration did not occur earlier in his schooling: "I would have wanted [acceleration] earlier because that four years of doing not much work was not very good" (Fatih, 8/8/94).
Creichton. Creichton was also 11 and was attending the local academically selective high school in Year 7 at the time of the study. Creichton's abilities were first noticed by his Year 1 teacher but it was his parents who advocated strongly in order to effect an acceleration from Year 1 to Year 3. Creichton's father initially approached the school with the request that Creichton be accelerated but the school resisted the request. They finally acceded when presented with the results of extensive standardized testing (including multiple IQ tests, achievement tests, and personality questionnaires). Creichton's parents became involved with the local gifted association and read extensively to learn all they could about options for their son's education. Commenting on his schooling prior to acceleration, Creichton commented: "In first grade... I wouldn't want to go [to school] at all and I'd feel sick, but you'd go there anyway and learn nothing" (Creichton, 7/28/94).
Following his acceleration to Year 3, Creichton felt academically challenged: "Well, it felt fairly good, I mean I was relieved at last that I could actually do more challenging work" (Creichton, 7/28/94).
The years of schooling since Creichton skipped a grade were not uniformly satisfying. Creichton and his parents commented that his satisfaction at school depended largely on the quality of the teachers and their willingness or ability to provide appropriate curricula. Creichton's father commented that his schooling subsequent to acceleration was:
Creichton's acceleration experience did not change his socializing patterns. In Year 1, his closest friends were a year older and Creichton's acceleration into Year 3 placed them in the same grade. They have remained firm friends throughout their schooling. Emotionally, Creichton believed that his acceleration made him a more confident person. His parents reported that he was happy and enthusiastic about school immediately following his acceleration and he no longer experienced physical illness symptoms at the thought of school.
Elijah. Elijah was 16 years old and in his second year at university at the time of the study. His parents early recognized his giftedness and were his advocates but they were forced to repeatedly battle an intransigent bureaucracy to have Elijah's educational needs met. Elijah started school in Fiji where he was allowed to move through the curriculum at his own pace. On the family's return to Australia, the 6-year-old Elijah was initially enrolled in a school that allowed him to accelerate to Year 6 within 3 years. However, the family then moved to a town in the South coast region of NSW where he was relegated to his age-grade placement. After repeated and persistent attempts from his parents and the NSW Gifted Association, Elijah was eventually permitted to skip a number of grades over the course of his schooling. Following their ground-breaking advocacy on behalf of their son, Elijah's parents have become advocates for countless other gifted children in NSW. Elijah's father has read extensively in the area of giftedness.
Elijah reported that prior to his acceleration, his school work was boring and failed to challenge him in any way. He stated that his boredom manifested itself in physical symptoms including rashes around the neck and a tendency to cry easily. Once he was accelerated, these symptoms disappeared. Socially, Elijah tended to have friends who were older and he reported that at various points in his schooling he did not socialize with others in his class group. He was not worried about this situation, however, stating that he wanted to continue with his accelerated progression because he felt happier when his school work was challenging.
Kaylie. Kaylie was 6 years old and attending Year 1 in a local primary school. Her preschool teacher recognized her giftedness and recommended that her parents withdraw her from the preschool and apply for early entry into kindergarten. After half a year in kindergarten, she progressed to Year 1. The school recommended that she be further accelerated into Year 3 but the parents refused that option. In response to their daughter being recognized as gifted, Kaylie's parents have read extensively in the field and attended several workshops conducted by university academics on giftedness.
Kaylie was satisfied with her education both prior and subsequent to acceleration. Kaylie's mother commented that her daughter's post-acceleration placement was particularly successful because the teacher provided Kaylie with special academic enrichment work. The teacher had undertaken graduate studies in gifted education.
Kaylie's socializing was not adversely affected by the acceleration because the majority of her friends were older. Although she was initially worried about entering kindergarten, Kaylie adjusted quickly and declared that school was fun. Her mother reported that Kaylie was excited about going to school and enjoyed being there.
Kate. Kate was 9 years old and was being homeschooled by her mother at the time of the study. She was identified as gifted when she was in Year 2 and was tested on the WISC-R. She was subsequently grade-skipped from Year 3 into Year 5 at her mother's request and despite initial resistance from the school. Her mother subsequently decided to home-school Kate because of ongoing problems with socializing at school.
Kate was eager to commence school but rapidly became bored in kindergarten. This boredom manifested itself in physical symptoms, including bouts of oesophagitis and one month of mutism. Once accelerated, Kate's dissatisfaction with her schooling did not entirely dissipate because the teacher would not allow her to progress at her own rate. She stated that she was "less bored" but still craved more challenging work. Further, the social and emotional problems she had experienced prior to acceleration did not improve. Kate's mother believed that her daughter's lack of physical coordination was largely responsible for lack of acceptance among her peers.
DiscussionThe five case studies revealed some interesting points in common. Elijah, Creichton, and Kate were all identified as gifted because they expressed their boredom and frustration with school work that they found unchallenging. Their feelings were manifested in physical and emotional symptoms. In fact, all five students reported suffering physical illnesses prior to their acceleration-and in each case, the symptoms disappeared when they were provided with more challenging work.
Elijah, Creichton and Kate had their giftedness confirmed through formal testing as their acceleration depended ultimately on the scores they attained in the face of opposition from the schools. Neither Fatih nor Kaylie underwent such testing because in their cases - unlike the other three - the teachers were their advocates for accelerated progression rather than their parents. The researcher's interviews with the parents and teachers of Elijah, Creichton and Kate, indicated that these parents had acquired and demonstrated far more knowledge about the appropriate educational options for gifted students than the school decision makers. Not only were the parents forced into the role of advocates for their children's placement but also they were able to comment on the appropriateness (or otherwise) of the curricular offerings provided for their children. The parents articulated the differences for their children between teachers who understood their children's needs and provided qualitatively different curricula and those who did not have such insights. Significantly, the teachers they named as providing the most effective curricula were those who had undertaken some formal study in gifted education.
In all five cases, the interviewees reported that the academic needs of the students were not being met prior to acceleration. There was some improvement in the level of work offered to the students following acceleration. Nevertheless, there were still several instances when the work again became unchallenging, making it clear that some students were candidates for further acceleration. What is also clear from the case studies is that acceleration is a temporary solution to addressing the needs of gifted students (Gross, 1992; Kulik & Kulik, 1992); without a differentiated curriculum that challenges the student and a teacher who is knowledgeable about the needs of gifted students, acceleration will not satisfy the gifted student (Gross, 1992; Kulik & Kulik, 1992). In such cases, the acceleration becomes a placement decision rather than a program decision. Unfortunately, boredom and frustration were the dominant memories of these accelerants when reflecting on their schooling experiences.
Each of the students reported that they were happier, socially and emotionally, after their acceleration. They demonstrated a tendency to socialize with older children prior to their acceleration and reported a greater feeling of fulfillment and self-confidence following acceleration. Kate was an exception in that she felt rejected by the class into which she was accelerated but her emotional problems were not any worse after acceleration than they had been beforehand.
In summary, then, the 5 case studies of accelerants support the findings of other research studies in the literature (Benbow, 1992; Gross, 1992; Heinbokel, 1997; Kulik & Kulik, 1991, 1992; Swiatek, 1993). The experience of acceleration through grade skipping was seen as a positive one by each of the students, academically, socially, and emotionally. The study also highlights the urgent need for teachers and administrators to familiarize themselves with the needs of gifted students. The parents and teachers who were advocates for these students had to combat prejudice and bureaucracy in order to gain the concession of even a single grade-skip. Further, the students continued to experience some academic frustrations when the curricula they received still failed to meet their unique needs.
Vertical TimetablingOne way in which some high schools in New South Wales are attempting to provide flexibility for gifted students is using a procedure known as vertical timetabling. This procedure allows accelerated progression in specific subject areas for students who are "capable of achieving at the highest level of a curriculum stage in one or more subjects in advance of their peers" (NSW Department of School Education, 199 lb, p. 11). Smith's Hill High School, an academically selective high school in the South Coast region of NSW introduced vertical timetabling in 1993. The school had a population of approximately 800 students in Years 7 to 12. Students qualified for entry to the school by completing an entrance test (similar to an IQ test) in Year 6.
To gauge students' perceptions of the effectiveness of accelerated progression in the school, an open-ended survey of accelerated students was conducted in 1994 (Bateman et al., 1997). At that time, accelerated progression had been undertaken by 50 students in Years 8, 9 and 10; in each case, the students were studying at one year level higher in the subject discipline. Some students were accelerated in one subject only while others were accelerated in a number of subjects. The anonymous survey was administered during a school assembly and was completed by 33 students, a response rate of 66%. The respondents included 16 accelerants in Mathematics, 30 in Science, 13 in English, and I in Geography and History. Students were asked: to identify the subjects in which they accelerated; how and why they decided to accelerate; the positive and negative outcomes of their acceleration; and to compare the teaching approaches in their accelerated and regular classes. Similar responses to each question were tabulated and grouped together to identify key themes and issues. These key themes are discussed below.
An interesting finding of the survey was that all accelerants, within 6 to 10 weeks of being in the accelerated class, were placed at the top of the class into which they were accelerated. This finding confirms those of other studies examining the academic performance of accelerants (Daurio, 1979; Feldhusen et al., 1986; Kulik & Kulik, 1984). Not surprisingly, then, after the honeymoon period of the initial six weeks in the class, the accelerated students became dissatisfied with the class pace. There were two explanations for this. One was that these bright students were frequently placed in a class that contained the less capable students from that grade. Therefore, a recommendation from this survey was that accelerants should be placed with the more talented students in the grade so that the pace of work was more appropriate.
The second problem related to the teaching strategies used in the classes. The students reported that the teachers often used a teacher-centered approach rather than the problem-based, student-centered approach that they preferred. For example, 91% of the students indicated they preferred to set their own problems to solve while only 33% reported that they were ever given this option. Similarly, 81% of the students indicated that they would like the opportunity to take pretests to establish what they already know on a topic; and 97% indicated they would like the opportunity to skip content they had already mastered. Again, the frequency with which teachers offered these options contrasted to the students' preferences as only 25% of students indicated that such opportunities were offered to them. Eighty percent of students indicated that they preferred assignments that gave them choices but that they were rarely given these opportunities. Fifty percent of students expressed a desire for more enrichment and extension activities in class. This contrast between student preferences and teacher provision demonstrates the need for acceleration options to be accompanied by qualitatively different curricula that are commensurate with the accelerated students' abilities and learning preferences (Gross, 1992; Kulik & Kulik, 1992). It is important to note that less than 10% of the teachers working at this selective school have undertaken any formal study of gifted education.
When the students were asked to comment on the ways in which their accelerated class differed from their regular classes, the majority (65%) were generally positive, commenting particularly that the work in the accelerated class was covered more quickly and was more challenging. Fourteen students indicated that they were able to work more independently "without the teacher interrupting." The theme of these responses is encapsulated in one student's comment: "I don't stare out the window so much." Nevertheless, six students indicated that the work was not any different from that in their regular classes. The apparent contradictions in students' responses were evident in the following student's response:
Thirty percent of students commented on the high expectations placed on them by being in the accelerated class. They felt that there was pressure on them to perform better than others and therefore there was "less feeling of security than in other classes." One of the conditions of being accelerated was that the students maintained an "A average" in the subject. Such expectations can be regarded as positive or negative depending on the personality and self-esteem of the individual students concerned. Many of the students accepted the challenge and worked hard while approximately 10% decided to return to their cohort groups. At the same time, 68% of students commented that the experience of acceleration gave them more confidence in their own abilities and that this related to their academic achievements. A representative comment was the following:
One force that mitigated against students pursuing the challenge of accelerating in particular subjects was a ruling by the Board of Studies (the body which sets and administers the rules and regulations governing the assessment of high school students) that removed the flexibility that vertical timetabling was trying to effect. The Board required any accelerating student to take the Higher School Certificate (the certification awarded after examinations at the end of the final year of schooling) at the highest possible level. For example, accelerants in Year 12 were required to attempt 4 Unit Science, 3 Unit English, 4 Unit Mathematics and any other subject at 3 Unit level, leaving them with very few choices for other subjects they may wish to pursue. For example, a subject in which they were interested may not have been available at the top level of study. Thirty percent of students commented that this ruling placed unwelcome constraints on their studies.
In 1997, teachers were also surveyed as to their perceptions of the positive and negative outcomes of the accelerated progression option for accelerants (Bateman et al., 1997). An 85% response rate was gained from the teachers. While the majority of the teachers (87%) commented that the acceleration program was a positive initiative for students' academic needs, they believed that insufficient attention was given to students' social and emotional needs. Ninety percent of teachers believed that the students' social and emotional maturity should be a major consideration in whether they should be permitted to accelerate.
In summary, the vertical timetabling approach at this selective high school has enabled accelerated progression with-in some subjects for gifted students. The majority of students (80%) were positive about the opportunity that they were receiving but a similar percentage believed that the experience would be far more effective if teachers allowed them more choice and provided work that better matched their abilities and learning preferences.
Myths and RealitiesThe three research projects briefly described in this article examined three different forms of acceleration: early entry; grade skipping; and acceleration within subject disciplines. A number of conclusions can be drawn from these studies. The attitudes of the accelerants towards their acceleration were positive both in terms of their academic needs and their social and emotional needs. Nevertheless, the studies also revealed a reluctance-and in some cases, antagonism-regarding acceleration as an educational program option on the part of teachers and administrators. This was particularly evident in the first two studies, while the teachers in the third study expressed some reservations about the overall benefits of the acceleration program. The educators who most actively supported acceleration were those individuals who had received some training in gifted education; those who were most vocal in their opposition admitted to receiving no such training. The importance of teacher training in instilling positive attitudes toward gifted provision has been demonstrated by the literature (Gross, 1997; Hanninen, 1988; Hansen & Feldhusen, 1994) which has consistently found a similar pattern related to teacher training and attitudes to gifted. The fears most often expressed by the teachers related to the social and emotional development of the accelerated students. Such fears were not borne out by the evidence gained from these studies.
The success of acceleration related most strongly to the nature of the curriculum that the accelerants received subsequent to their acceleration. This supports Kulik and Kulik's (1992) conclusion that the key to acceleration is the way in which course content is adjusted to the student's ability. The students in the studies described herein reported high levels of satisfaction, academically and emotionally, when the curriculum was challenging, provided them with options, and allowed them a voice in its design and execution. The experiences of many students; however, was that the curriculum often was not differentiated and therefore the acceleration became an administrative option rather than a pedagogically sound program option. The data from the three research projects echo the conclusions of Gross (1993) in her ongoing longitudinal research into exceptionally gifted children. Gross (1992) indicated that factors influencing the success of acceleration programs could be summarized under the following: pro- gram design and planning; enhancement of social self-esteem; provision of an intellectual peer group; and the reversal of underachievement.
Another factor that emerges from the data is the importance of supportive adults and peers for the emotional well being of the accelerants. The students commented on the importance of a belief in themselves to their sense of achievement and their happiness at school; they also highlighted the part that some teachers, parents and peers played in helping them accept their own abilities. Parents and teachers acted as advocates in seeking appropriate educational options for them; like-minded peers made them feel less isolated in their academic pursuits. Noble, Robinson and Gunderson (1993) also conclude that adult and peer support is essential for accelerants.
Finally, the study data reveal how important it is that individual differences are considered in the planning and implementation of acceleration practices. Accelerated students need to have their progress monitored and additional curriculum modifications made where necessary. It is clear that some of the accelerants in the second study, for example, would have benefited from further accelerations while one accelerant had particular social needs that were not addressed. The importance of attending to individual differences has also been evident in previous research studies (Charlton, Marolf & Stanley, 1994; Cornell, Callahan & Loyd, 1991).
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