"Acceleration" is a word that is commonly used in gifted education, but the term can, in fact, represent several different practices. Schiever and Maker (2003), for example, describe acceleration as a component of two different models. Acceleration can be a service delivery model, which includes grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten or to college, and part-time grade acceleration. Alternatively, acceleration can be a curriculum model, which involves increasing the rate at which curriculum is presented to students. Telescoping, a practice that lets a student work through two or more year's worth of material in the space of one year, is an example of the latter model. Rogers (2002) makes a similar distinction between various options for "grade-based acceleration" and options for "subject-based acceleration."
Southern and Jones, editors of the seminal 1991 work The Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children, also describe acceleration as "…a process that encompasses a large number of practices" (p. 1), Placing select students in higher grade levels as compared with their age peers is identified as the earliest form of acceleration. Southern and Jones have identified 15 types of acceleration options which have subsequently evolved: early entrance to kindergarten or first grade; grade-skipping; continuous progress; self-paced instruction; subject-matter acceleration; combined classes; curriculum compacting; telescoping; mentorship; extracurricular programs; concurrent enrollment; advanced placement; credit by examination; correspondence courses; and early entrance into junior high, high school, or college (adapted from Table 1.1, pp. 2-3). Each of these practices has advantages and disadvantages. Likewise, students who are candidates for such interventions will have relative strengths and weaknesses--some of the above practices will be healthy options, while others simply may not work for them. Because of this, the entire decision-making process regarding acceleration intervention(s) is very important.
All versions of The Iowa Acceleration Scale, including the first edition which was published in 1998, owe much to Light's Retention Scale (Light, 1986), a well-established instrument and manual for use in cases in which grade retention is under consideration. The LAS is an instrument designed to facilitate the decision-making process regarding the appropriateness of whole-grade acceleration (grade-skipping) as an intervention for exceptionally talented children. Piper and Creps (1991) indicate that a standardized and systematic procedure serves to increase the likelihood that adequate information is collected for each individual acceleration case. It also improves the chances for consistent final decisions across different cases. Feldhusen (1992) and others have noted the need for educators and parents to analyze an encompassing set of factors during the decision-making process.
The following sections summarize research on whole-grade acceleration and related topics. The specific issues addressed include:
The Effectiveness of Whole-Grade Acceleration
Whole-grade acceleration is a significantly effective intervention for certain highly capable students. This fact contrasts markedly with the popular opinion that whole-grade acceleration is a detrimental educational practice. When examining early literature that discusses the effects of acceleration, DeHaan and Havighurst (1961), Swiatek and Benbow (1991), and Gallagher (1996, 2002) found no basis for the generally negative perceptions held about acceleration. Gallagher (1975) cites a 1963 California study in which, of 522 acceleration cases examined, only nine were marked by significant troubles, and in each of those cases, acceleration had been implemented in spite of reservations.
Kulik and Kulik (1984) conducted a meta-analysis of 26 controlled studies of whole-grade acceleration at the elementary and secondary levels. Grade-skipped students were compared with equally intelligent students who were not grade-skipped, and they were also compared with older students in the grade into which they were accelerated. Overall, on subsequent achievement tests, the grade-skipped students demonstrated a full grade level of growth over non-grade-skipped students. In addition, the performance level of these accelerated students equaled that of the older students. A longitudinal study of exceptional students indicates that these students preferred individualized educational opportunities, which included some form of acceleration, in 95% of the cases (Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, & Benbow, 2001). Southern and Jones (1992), Feldhusen, Winkle, and Ehle (1996), and Rogers (2002) emphasize that whole-grade acceleration is not a process that simply speeds student progress; rather, it is an acknowledgement that the student has already achieved at the requisite level to qualify for a higher grade placement and that further instruction in what has already been mastered is not beneficial.
How Whole-Grade Acceleration
Compares to Other Educational Interventions
Meeting students' needs using interventions less "radical" than whole-grade acceleration may appear attractive, but these other interventions are not necessarily easier to implement and may not actually meet the student's educational needs effectively (Rogers, 2002). Feldhusen, Proctor, and Black (1986) point out that it is often not possible to provide specially designed classes for high-ability students. They have also found that teachers' abilities to individualize curriculum are often limited by the myriad demands on their time and by official policy that can prevent the incorporation of above-grade-level material into a classroom's curriculum.
In one large-scale study involving nearly 4,000 respondents, it was found that high-ability students were typically given the same curriculum as other students--in spite of the fact that they had already mastered it (Archambault et al., 1993). Although many of the teachers in this study had a high level of training (nearly half had master's degrees), 61% had been given no staff development in gifted education, and daily use of curricular enhancement strategies, specifically with high-ability students, was reported as being rare.
In another study, Reis et al. (1993) indicated further problems that can arise in meeting the needs of highly gifted students at their age-appropriate grade level. Teachers were trained to successfully use curriculum compacting--the practice of eliminating lesson material that high-ability students have already mastered--allowing them to move on to new areas. Results showed that, even with such training, the teachers had demonstrable difficulty filling the instructional time made available with material suitable for high-ability learners while trying at the same time to teach the other students at a usual pace. This is in no way meant to negatively reflect upon the individual or collective efforts of teachers who have high-ability students in their classrooms. It does demonstrate, though, the difficulties of teaching such a broad spectrum of abilities, and it suggests that there has been a certain inattention within the educational system as a whole to training teachers to challenge these high-end learners in the regular classroom.
Other studies (Kulik, 2003; Rogers, 2002) have shown that the component elements of whole-grade acceleration are beneficial for select students, because these students have more similarly matched intellectual peer groups, and they are more suited to the standard classroom curriculum that they encounter. Kulik and Kulik (1984) built upon the results of an earlier study of theirs (1982), in which they conducted a meta-analysis of ability grouping in secondary students. In general, high-ability students benefited most when grouped with other high-ability students in classrooms where enriched instruction was provided. Kulik and Kulik also found that the students in these homogeneously grouped classes had more positive attitudes toward the subjects that they studied. Teachers, as well, were positively affected by homogeneous student grouping, perceiving their instruction as being more effective with such classes. Kulik (2003) provides a comprehensive review and discussion of the evidence supporting the positive effects of ability grouping and acceleration for high-ability students.
Feldhusen, Proctor, and Black (1986) summarized research indicating that when a task matches the readiness of a student, that skill is learned effectively and generalizes to other settings. In contrast, material that is under-challenging causes boredom, while that which is too difficult elicits frustration. The effect that whole-grade acceleration has of bringing select students closer to a curriculum environment and a group of peers that will intellectually stimulate them is the principle reason that its advocates support the practice (Davis & Rimm, 1994; Tomlinson, 1994; Rogers, 2002; Stanley, 1998). An excellent discussion of the rationale for acceleration can be found in Southern and Jones (1991).
Characteristics of Successful Situations
While performance on ability and achievement testing is an important indicator in whole-grade acceleration decisions (Benbow & Stanley, 1983a, 1983b), there are other methods for identifying potentially successful candidates for such an acceleration process. Students should demonstrate academic skill levels that would place them in the upper range of students in the grade into which they would be accelerated (Feldhusen, Proctor, & Black, 1986; Robinson & Weimer, 1991). In addition, while it is not expected that students will know all of the skills that they could potentially need in their new settings, there does need to be evidence that they are able to learn quickly. Providing specific skill training to meet gaps that have resulted from whole-grade acceleration is a process that can be aided by effective assessment of the student's academic skill level (Piper & Creps, 1991).
Additional flexible educational alternatives can assist in successful acceleration. The existence of college-level early entry programs, advanced placement coursework, and the use of educational practices such as mentoring create outlets for accelerated students so that they may continue to be challenged as they progress through school (Robinson & Noble, 1992; Rogers, 2002). Regardless of the chosen method of acceleration, it is essential that it challenge the student adequately and appropriately. In addition, providing an intellectual peer group for the student can be just as important as the actual academic work that is being given, which is why it is sometimes not enough to simply give the student accelerated work; he or she must be with other students who are studying and excited about the same academic material that he or she is studying (Gross, 1993, 2000).
How Acceleration Compares to Enrichment
The acceleration-versus-enrichment debate is decades old. George, Cohn, and Stanley (1979) provide an excellent historical perspective in Educating the Gifted: Acceleration and Enrichment. One of the chapters in the book (Stanley, 1979) deals extensively with the variety of enrichment procedures. Although Stanley's chapter was written more than two decades ago, his treatment of the issues is as relevant today as it was then. He writes, "...most of the supplemental educational procedures called 'enrichment' and given overly glamorous titles are, even at best, potentially dangerous if not accompanied or followed by acceleration of placement in subject matter and/or grade" (p. 172).
In the debate over the merits and drawbacks of acceleration. Southern and Jones (1991) and Passow (1996) compare its benefits with enrichment. They each conclude that both of these educational approaches have advantages. Passow emphasizes that academic acceleration is best applied to disciplines in which progress is continuous and exposure to higher levels of curriculum is beneficial (i.e., math or foreign languages). Enrichment is best applied to areas in which depth and breadth of work can be manipulated (i.e., literature or history). Most importantly, the two can and should be used together.
Schiever and Maker (1997) build upon the work of others in making the case that acceleration and enrichment are inextricably bound together. They use the metaphor of water and heat, which, when combined under the right conditions, produce a qualitatively different product--steam. Similarly, acceleration and enrichment processes applied simultaneously to a curriculum have the potential to change it from something that does not meet the needs of talented students into something qualitatively different that does.
Schiever and Maker examined studies, such as one conducted by Gallagher and Gallagher (1994), that looked specifically at the ways in which gifted and talented students learn curriculum. From this, they have suggested that the learning profile of these students could be conceptualized so that, for example, a typical six-week instructional unit designed for particular grade-level students can be taught to gifted students of a younger age in a three- to four-week period. In addition, it is helpful for these students if material is presented in a more abstract manner, allowing them to consider for themselves how it all fits together. Using this example, but applying it to a whole year's worth of curriculum, gives some insight into the specialized needs of highly talented students. In addition to Stanley (1979), others who discuss the interactive process between acceleration and enrichment include Davis and Rimm (1994), Kitano and Kirby (1986), and Rogers (2002).
The Twice-Exceptional Child
Awareness of the plight of the paradoxically twice-exceptional child is a convergence of two events that took place in the 1970s. First, the 1972 Marland Report placed gifted education in a vanguard position (Colangelo & Davis, 2003). Then, in 1976, the legal (and watershed) Education for All Handicapped Children Act mandated that all children with disabilities must have an appropriate education. A 1990 update changed the name to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
One result of IDEA is that educators are more familiar and comfortable with a variety of tests that are used to understand the unique learning characteristics of students whose disabilities run the gamut from mildly to profoundly challenging. In addition, educators now have a greater appreciation for individual differences and for the power of testing to place students into programs, as well as for using that information to formulate programming.
The core of IDEA is the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Because of the IEP, most teachers are now familiar and comfortable with the concept of child study teams and with the model that the team should participate in the discussion and decision-making process.
Despite the temporal (1970s) convergence of these two watershed events (the Marland Report and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act), conceptually, the events remained mutually exclusive. The Marland Report made no mention of gifted students with disabilities, and IDEA'S predecessors made no mention of disabled students with giftedness. In fact, some educators believed (incorrectly) that it was not possible for a gifted student to also experience a learning disability.
Recently, gifted educators bridged these two seemingly paradoxical categories by recognizing the twice-exceptional child (Yewchuk & Lupart, 2000). Educators of gifted students now encourage identification and programming that addresses both exceptionalities.
Seeley (2003) describes interventions with (and for) the twice-exceptional child as necessarily paradoxical. He explains that "Talented children and youth who are disruptive, or violent, or delinquent, or just poor students are a paradox worthy of exploration in search for new solutions or explanations. The solutions themselves may also be rich in paradox and ambiguities. This paradox will continue to confront us in developing high potential among youth whose behavior challenges our models, approaches, and understandings about intelligence and ability" (p. 444).
The twice-exceptionality of a child being considered for whole-grade acceleration adds a new dimension to discussions and decisions. Although twice-exceptionality is no longer considered novel, the notion that a twice-exceptional child may need to be accelerated is novel. Whereas the IAS originally was not developed with twice-exceptionality as a consideration in the decision-making process, the second edition of the IAS includes twice-exceptionality as a factor. Although it does not appear in the scored items, the discussion of twice-exceptionality is one of the factors initially reviewed through the chart that documents Prior Professional Evaluation Services in Section III: School History.
Here is a brief discussion of each of the disability categories mentioned in the chart, i.e., learning, social-emotional/behavioral/psychiatric, and physical. This brief discussion is not meant to be exhaustive; instead, the purpose is to mention these conditions, cite some current references, and compel the team to seriously consider the influence and potential need for accommodation that the disability may require when deciding about whole-grade acceleration as a programming option.
Silverman (2003) reports the incidence of learning disabilities (LD) in the gifted population to be 10-15%--the same percent as in the general population. She also reports that it is not unexpected that a child with a very high IQ may also have a combination of disabilities, including difficulty learning to read and/or symptoms of attention deficit disorder.
In an in-depth review of identification and intervention issues regarding gifted children with learning disabilities, Brody and Mills (1997) refer to three types of gifted/LD:
The most salient point of the list above is that the gifted/LD population is not of one kind. Just as both the LD population and the gifted population represent--in and of themselves--diverse groups of learners, the convergence of the two groups implies increased heterogeneity for the gifted/LD population.
Additionally, students with nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD) are now receiving attention from gifted educators and special educators, and it is the NLD categorization and its relationship to Asperger Syndrome, a variant of autism, (Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, 2000) that has significant implications for the twice-exceptional population. Whereas both the LD student (i.e., one who has problems with school work such as reading, writing, and/or spelling) and the NLD student (i.e., one who has school problems
stemming from social and emotional deficits) are obviously much more complex than a simple comparison of their distinguishing characteristics, we think that it is helpful for both educators and parents to consider the primary features that differentiate the two, as well as the implications of those features for the gifted student who may need to be whole-grade accelerated.
A useful comparison comes from the following four categories of characteristics (Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow, 2000): (1) academic assets, (2) academic deficits, (3) socio-emotional/adaptive assets, and (4) socio-emotional/adaptive deficits. For the LD child, the academic deficits include writing, reading, decoding, spelling, rote memory, and/or mathematical computation. The gifted LD child has special academic assets in reading comprehension and general subject matter knowledge (often seen through the high IQ), and he or she typically has strong socio-emotional/adaptive assets--e.g., adaptation to new situations, social competence, emotional stability--and few socio-emotional deficits. In contrast, the NLD child seems to have few socio-emotional/adaptive assets; instead, the NLD child has significant socio-emotional/adaptive deficits characterized by difficulty with novel situations and emotional instability. In their comprehensive discussion of Asperger Syndrome (AS), Klin et al. discuss at length learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. The interested reader--and more importantly, the educator or parent with a student who is gifted and has a diagnosed disability--is strongly encouraged to pursue additional information about the disability.
The social deficits found in AS children may resemble some of the problem behaviors observed in the gifted population (e.g., social isolation, sustained focus in an interest area to the exclusion of others). Gallagher and Gallagher (2002) have identified characteristics of children who are highly gifted compared with children who are not gifted and yet have AS. In their study, they report that the most frequent characteristic of children with AS is poor social interaction. Amend (2001) has noted that some gifted children who are academically misplaced may appear to suffer from AS, but when they are placed with intellectual peers who share their interests, the AS-like behaviors disappear or at least are greatly reduced.
With respect to the gifted child who has any of the above disabilities, it is important to keep in mind that the disability is life-long. Therefore, the question to address is whether the whole-grade acceleration will exacerbate the difficulties or, given the proper intervention for the disability, whether whole-grade acceleration will assuage the difficulties.
We have placed attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) under the behavioral disability category. Kaufman and Castellanos (2000) provide an excellent discussion of the coincidence of giftedness and ADHD. They indicate that although some researchers (e.g., Webb, 2001; Webb & Latimer, 1993) have questioned the validity of the joint diagnosis--that is, rather than being ADHD, these students are more likely gifted students who are not challenged in class--Kaufman and Castellanos believe instead that the combination of giftedness and ADHD is legitimate and frequently occurs together. As with learning disabilities, ADHD represents a syndrome. Kaufmann and Castellanos report that it is the most common neuropsychiatric disorder of childhood.
Consideration of many psychiatric disorders--e.g., bi-polar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or schizophrenia--was traditionally reserved for adults; however, it is now apparent that these are conditions that also sometimes affect children. For example. The Harvard Mental Health Letter (2002) reports that, "Although it is mainly familiar as an adult problem, OCD is surprisingly common in children. It afflicts 2%-3% of Americans, and between one-third and one-half of them are under [the age of] 15" (p. 4). Even so, some mental health professionals (Amend, 2001; Webb, 2001) believe that some gifted children are being incorrectly given these diagnoses due to a lack of understanding by mental health professionals of the characteristics of gifted children, particularly those children who are in inappropriate educational placements.
Even though these disorders infrequently occur in children, it is important to discuss the implications of such a diagnosis when considering whole-grade acceleration. Students with social-emotional/ psychiatric disorders may be the most vulnerable to issues that arise from grade-skipping. However, educators' should not allow a child's disorder to obscure discussion about the need to provide the child with challenging curriculum through acceleration.
There are a variety of physical conditions that can influence both a student's academic performance and the measurement of the student's academic ability, aptitude, and achievement. These physical conditions include sensory difficulties--e.g., hearing or sight impairment--as well as gross and fine-motor coordination deficits. Though it will be important to consider the educational implications of the student's physical disorder, educational strategies will also be necessary to accommodate the student's giftedness, and this may well include whole-grade acceleration.
Students with any of the above exceptionalities have the right to have accommodations in the assessment of their academic ability, aptitude, or achievement.
Academic Ability, Aptitude, and Achievement
Setting a minimally acceptable level of demonstrable potential and developed skill in academic ability and achievement can help to eliminate from consideration those students who may initially appear to be ready for acceleration but who, in fact, lack the requisite skill level to meet the challenge. The IAS sets a high standard in order to reduce the consideration of "false positive" candidates.
To determine minimum standards, the IAS relies on data that are familiar to virtually all educators--those from norm-referenced tests. Assouline (2003), in examining the use of testing to make informed educational decisions about high-ability students, has identified some key reasons for supporting the use of norm-referenced testing with these students. In 1972, the U.S. Office of Education defined gifted and talented children as those having generally high intellectual ability and specific academic aptitude, among its list of potential identifying traits. Many states adopted versions of this 1972 definition as the basis for their policies. Assouline describes this adoption as reinforcing the continued practice of using testing as a means of identifying high-ability students. Furthermore, testing is a common practice in any education assessment process that results in the placement of a student.
The measurement of academic ability, aptitude, and achievement is integral to the decision-making process of the IAS. Please see Section VI in this Manual, entitled "A Description of Tests Needed to Complete the IAS," for a detailed look at each of the tests listed on the IAS Form, as well as additional general discussion of ability, aptitude, and achievement.
Feldhusen and Jarwan (1993) assert that identifying students as gifted on the basis of IQ is strongly linked with established and accepted practices in special education for identifying students with educational difficulties. The use of a particular range of scores--in the case of the gifted, those consisting of the upper 2%--to identify good candidates for acceleration is another practice that correlates with those common in special education. Additional information about appropriate testing for high-ability students, which differs in some respects from the more traditional testing of students with educational difficulties, can be found in such sources as Assouline and Lupkowski-Shoplik (2003), Gottfredson (2003), and Piper and Creps (1991).
There are acknowledged problems with the characteristics of particular instruments for measuring intelligence, particularly how they are used in educational practice. However, an individualized intelligence test that is properly administered and evaluated continues to be a very effective predictor of academic success in elementary and secondary school (Satder, 2001; Seigler & Richards, 1988).
The use of intelligence tests raises the issue of the relation between group- versus individually-administered tests. Group-administered tests are more economical and, as a result, are more commonly used than individually-administered tests (Assouline, 1997). Satder (2001), however, points out that the scores earned on these group tests have a tendency to be lower than those on tests given individually. Sternberg and Salter (1982) question the accuracy of group intelligence tests. These authors specifically critique the conditions under which group tests are administered, including the use of time limits and the distractions that other students can add to the testing environment. Piper and Creps (1991) said of group-administered tests, "[Ability and achievement] group test results are subject to many threats to the validity of the information provided. Accurate assessment...may not have occurred during group testing if the student was suffering from illness, test anxiety, or distractions in the test environment.... [I]ndividual tests, administered by trained professionals, allow...an informal assessment of the student's attention, tolerance, problem-solving skills and creativity..." (p. 170).
Robinson and Weimer (1991) indicate that individually-administered measures are most appropriate because they allow for direct observation of the child's behavior during testing. In addition, individual tests can be administered at differing levels of difficulty so that the child can avoid spending time on those portions of the test that are already clearly below his or her level of achievement. This needs to be taken into account during the assessment and decision-making process. Piper and Creps (1991) likewise emphasize the value of observation in one-on-one testing. However, they suggest that grades, observations, and interviews may be more vulnerable to bias than standardized testing procedures.
Once an accurate IQ measure is obtained, a related issue that needs to be addressed is how high the score must be to warrant acceleration. Early in the 20th Century, Hollingworth (1942) determined that students with an IQ of 130 or above could complete curriculum at a substantially faster rate than could average students. Gallagher (1985) has since suggested this figure (IQ equal to or greater than 130) as the required performance level at which acceleration is recommended. Terman and Oden (1947) and Davis and Rimm (1994) have determined the figure to be an IQ of 135 or higher, and Feldhusen, Proctor, and Black (1986) have used the figure 125. The IAS uses the conservative IQ score of 130 as earned on an individually-administered test such as the WISC-III or Binet IV.
Ability, as discussed above, refers to a more generalized intellectual reasoning. A measure of ability can be an excellent indicator of need for whole-grade acceleration; however, it does not provide specific information concerning subjects or content areas. Stanley (1984) advocates that a comprehensive profile of a student's strengths be determined through a measure of his or her aptitude in specific areas. This may be accomplished through the use of aptitude tests or through specialized use of achievement tests. With respect to acceleration, focusing on assessment of aptitude by using an above-level achievement test is an ideal means by which to determine the level of work for which the student is ready.
Early work by Stanley in the 1970s introduced the idea of above-level testing by offering tests designed for older students to bright, younger students (Lupkowski-Shoplik, Benbow, Assouline, & Brody, 2003). For young students who perform well on grade-level tests, there often is a "ceiling effect," where their scores cluster in the 98th and 99th percentiles because the norms do not go higher than the 99th percentile. Above-level testing serves to "spread out" these scores to determine where specific academic aptitudes are--taking an above-level test gives a better picture of the student's aptitude for academic material that he or she may not have been taught yet in school. Further, Robinson and Weimer (1991) state that bright children need to be tested on a measure that leaves room for advanced performance; this is what aptitude testing provides.
Performance at or above the 50th percentile on above-grade-level material indicates that a student is ready to learn more challenging material.
Achievement testing used to evaluate high-ability students varies along two principle dimensions:
administration (individual vs. group), and level (grade-level vs. above-grade-level). Achievement testing can be used to determine if a student's actual skills match the potential demonstrated in ability testing. Results from carefully administered tests can provide information for planning future programming, including acceleration. A level of excellent performance on an achievement test is an indicator that a student is ready to learn a new level of material. Performance at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level material constitutes that level of excellence.
Test results from high-ability students typically show that these students can learn and process information very quickly. Because of this, tying them to a lock-step instructional program is inappropriate (Rogers, 2002; VanTassel-Baska, 1991). Gallagher (1985) found that high-ability students are usually precocious early readers, often reading at levels two to six years above their age peers. Such an extreme degree of reading superiority may gradually narrow but will not disappear over time (Jackson & Klein, 1997). Students whose exceptional talent is demonstrated across multiple subject areas are better candidates for whole-grade acceleration than are those whose talents are demonstrated in certain areas only. The latter are more qualified for single-subject acceleration in their strength areas (Rogers, 2002;
Integrating Ability, Aptitude, and Achievement Test Scores
Statistical analysis of ability and achievement scores suggests that the constructs of each are similar but not identical. The correlation between scores on the two measures is strongest in a student's elementary years, lowering over time. Snow and Yalow (1988) attribute this phenomenon to the growing importance of other developmental processes in children's academic lives. By creating a single score for the minimum ability, aptitude, and achievement required for consideration of acceleration, the IAS accounts for this divergence.
School and Academic Factors
Grade Placement Considerations
As described in the "Thirteen Issues Regarding Acceleration," grade placement concerns vary depending upon the point in a child's educational level at which acceleration is considered. The issues regarding early entrance to kindergarten are different from the issues that come from skipping a later grade. For example, early entrance to kindergarten or first grade avoids the gaps in knowledge and the social disruptions that may occur when skipping a grade after the student has already begun school (Robinson & Weimer, 1991).
Despite the positive information about early entrance to school, few public schools have made specific efforts to screen young students for early admission to kindergarten (Cox, Daniel, & Boston, 1985). In addition, few preschool teachers (only 7% in one study) reported believing that gifted preschoolers should be allowed to enter kindergarten at a younger age (Sanker-DeLeeuw, 2002). Therefore, early entrance to kindergarten typically comes up as an issue only when parents approach a school.
The anecdotal information that these parents provide is useful to the team making the decision about early entrance to school. Parents of four- and five-year-old gifted children provide a reliable perspective that is useful in identifying and programming for exceptional students (Roedell, Jackson, & Robinson, 1980). For example, they might recount stories about the child's early reading ability ("At age three, she read the back of the shampoo bottle while taking a bath. That's when we discovered she could read.") or mathematical precocity ("When he was still in preschool, he could add problems like 15,921 + 40,857 correctly.").
Although these parental reports are very helpful and should be taken seriously by the team evaluating a potential early entrant to kindergarten or first grade, it is a good idea to conduct specific ability and achievement testing. We recommend administering both intelligence and achievement tests individually at this age, because young children are inexperienced at taking group tests, and there is great value in observing them in a one-on-one setting.
Test selection is an important consideration in the student evaluation process. In their guidelines for evaluating candidates for early admission to kindergarten, Robinson and Weimer (1991) stress the importance of using current norms for the measure. They also emphasize how important it is that the test allow for adequate ceilings, so that very high levels of functioning can be reflected in the test scores.
Students who enter elementary school early are as capable academically as the students into whose grade they have been accelerated, and all but a small percentage--who typically improve with time--are as socially well-adjusted as their new peers (Proctor, Black, & Feldhusen, 1986; Reynolds, 1962). Children who have attended preschool are more likely to be better candidates for early entrance to kindergarten, because those children have already experienced a structured routine, learned to share adult attention with other children, and developed group social skills (Robinson & Weimer, 1991). Proctor et al. also note that "Early admission may prevent underachievement of children who are ready and able for more structured and challenging learning experiences" (p. 87).
Another issue is the practice in the local community concerning age of entrance to school. If it is common in the community to "redshirt" children (Graue & DiPerna, 2000)--i.e., to hold children back an extra year and have them start kindergarten at age six so they will have an "advantage" compared to the other students--then having a child enter kindergarten before age five might be more of a concern. In this case, the child might be two years younger than the other children, rather than just one year.
Parents need to be aware of the laws in their states. In Pennsylvania, for example, individual districts set policies regarding early entrance to kindergarten or first grade, and some public schools have stated policies that prohibit entrance to kindergarten before the age of five. However, any student who completes first grade, regardless of age, is permitted to start second grade in a Pennsylvania public school. Some families choose to place their young student in a private or parochial school that is agreeable to permitting early entrance to school, keep the child in that non-public school for kindergarten and first grade, and then transfer the child to the public school beginning in second grade.
Davis and Rimm (1994) assert that a student should only skip one grade at a time. After the student has experienced a period of adjustment in the new setting, observation may lead to consideration of further intervention. Following adjustment to whole-grade acceleration, some students who are still under-challenged may do well with single-subject acceleration in at least one of their strongest academic areas.
Clinical experience, rather than prevailing beliefs about when to accelerate a student, have guided the weighting of the IAS item that addresses grade placement under consideration. Brody and Stanley (1991) are among those who advocate for whole-grade acceleration at points in which children can change school buildings. They believe that this makes the student less likely to stand out as an exception to the rules than if he or she were to remain in the same building with the potential of encountering old teachers and classmates, thus risking feelings of superiority or even exile. The staff at the Belin-Blank Center, however, have found that accelerations within a building provide distinct advantages, such as monitoring by staff who are familiar with the student, and that these outweigh the disadvantages that have been associated with "standing out."
There is also some support for the view that accelerations that occur during the school year offer benefits over accelerations that take place at the beginning of the school year. Mid-year accelerations, when carefully planned, allow the receiving teacher and the teacher that the student is leaving to confer more readily about the child and to help the child make an easier transition (Feldhusen, Proctor, & Black, 1986).
A number of studies have documented the positive relationship between attendance and achievement (e.g.. Baker & Shaw, 1987; Easton & Engelhard, 1982; Monk & Ibrahim, 1984). Baker and Shaw further note that a decline in attendance might signal a child at risk. Seeley (2003), Peterson and Colangelo (1996), and Davis and Rimm (1994) report that absences and tardiness among gifted students are indicators of both passive resistance and underachievement.
In a retrospective study of gifted students who either achieved or underachieved while in middle school and high school, Peterson and Colangelo (1996) found that gifted achievers and gifted under-achievers differed significantly in average attendance and tardiness. Gifted underachievers were absent and tardy more often. "[F]requent absences and tardiness may reflect personal problems, and absences may contribute to underachievement through lost instruction, time, and consequent negative interaction with teachers" (p. 405). These patterns appeared for both boys and girls, though more striking differences occurred with the girls. Previous research has been consistent in indicating a relationship between attendance and achievement. In assessing a student's readiness for acceleration, attendance pattern information is important.
Other Academic Issues
Motivation and attitude toward learning are connected with academic underachievement. Unchallenged-students may learn to get by with a minimum amount of effort, resulting in the development of bad habits, "inaccurate perceptions about the kind of effort required for study at advanced levels, and stunted patterns of attention and persistence" (Southern & Jones, 1991, p. 10). A great number of highly gifted students who remain in a regular classroom underachieve, and many lose motivation to excel by the end of elementary school (Gross & Feldhusen, 1990).
The levels of motivation and the attitudes of high-ability students who have been left among peers of the same age may cause them to appear unengaged by the curriculum (dark, 2001). At other times, impatience and frustration may even lead to inappropriate social and emotional behaviors (VanTassel-Baska, 1991). Feldhusen, Proctor, and Black (1986) indicate that optimal learning, including the degree to which skills are remembered and generalized to other situations, will not occur until the student is presented learning tasks at an appropriately difficult level.
Extracurricular involvement has both advantages and disadvantages in the context of acceleration. Cox, Daniel, and Boston (1985) found that high-ability students consider extracurricular experiences as outlets for interests that are unmet by school. They offer students the chance to escape from academic pressures and collaborate with peers in a way that allows them to overcome negative perceptions held by other students about their high abilities. On the other hand, Cornell, Callahan, Bassin, and Ramsay (1991) point out that interscholastic athletics, as well as other extracurricular school activities in which the student participates, may be affected in such a way that the student becomes opposed to acceleration. Transition into the new educational setting following acceleration may disrupt these extracurricular activities.
Robinson and Weimer (1991) point out that children at a particular grade level differ as much as 12 months in age from one another and demonstrate an even greater range with respect to developmental level. This is why, although the IAS takes age, physical size, and motor coordination into account, these issues are only important within the overall context of an acceleration decision.
VanTassel-Baska (1991) describes one common belief held among educators--and society in general--that promotes a conservative attitude toward acceleration. This is the idea that, for the first 13 years in school, a child needs a peer group whose ages are no greater and no less than six months of the child's own age in order to appropriately develop. In reality, factors such as family nurturance and self-perception are more important than association with age level peers in terms of contributing to healthy social and emotional development (VanTassel-Baska & Olszewski-Kubilius, 1989).
Another common concern is that students who skip one or more grades may encounter social situations for which they are not yet ready. "Acceleration of academic placement (grade-skipping) can often improve the match between capability and intellectual challenge and provide exposure to a wider range of non-gifted young people, but it may throw the gifted youngster into a social setting demanding more maturity than he or she has achieved" (Robinson & Robinson, 1982, pp. 79-80). Southern and Jones (1992) suggest that such beliefs have emerged from the prevailing view that children grow in stages. This view does not consider the fact that stage development is not precise at an individual level; rates at which individual children mature socially and emotionally, as well as academically, vary greatly. Therefore, age itself is not a reliable indication of development.
As for other age-related factors, such as the possibility of accelerated students driving or finding employment somewhat later than their non-accelerated peers, it seems that students consider these to be minor inconveniences that are well worth facing in return for the privilege of getting more advanced coursework and not being restricted in their learning (Brody, Lupkowski, & Stanley, 1988).
Motor coordination and development issues are most prominent when considering early entrance to school. Schiever and Maker (1997) identify signs such as difficulty in manipulating pencils or crayons as indicators that motor ability is under-developed relative to intellectual ability. Robinson and Weimer (1991) discuss a number of measures that can be useful in assessing early admission candidates.
When examining research into the affective issues that can arise following acceleration, it is generally perceived that most accelerated students adapt well to their new settings. While a small number do find it difficult to adjust, this happens less often than is commonly supposed by educators and parents. Janos (1986) indicates that acceleration by one to two years poses no hazards to current or later social development. Gallagher (1985) emphasizes the importance of intellectual peer groups for high-ability students and suggests that they are often found among children who are one to two years older chronologically.
The interpersonal skills of high-ability students of all ages tend to contain rather impressive characteristics. For instance, exceptionally talented preschoolers, some of whom may be potential candidates for early entrance to school, behave in many ways that are similar to their age peers; however, they are distinguishable by their advanced knowledge, higher level thinking abilities, creativity, independence, and social maturity (Kitano, 1985).
Research into the personality dimensions of high-ability elementary students is marked by questionable sampling and inconsistent results (Olszewski-Kubilius, Kulieke, & Krasney, 1988). Among the findings, though, is the fact that high-ability students who do not perceive themselves as different from others around them report fewer social problems and higher self-esteem than those who describe themselves as different from others (Janos, Fung, & Robinson, 1985). Janos et al. conclude that, while exceptionally talented students are socialized to recognize and capitalize on their abilities, those who mishandle this process and develop inflated self-images are liable to suffer socially with both peers and adults.
Janos (1986) points out that many highly talented students enjoy academic pursuits, especially reading, and he advises parents to allow these activities to be pursued. Alternative social activities should be encouraged, but only if they are appealing to the students, satisfying them the way that intellectually-oriented pursuits do. In the case of older high-ability children, Robinson (1983, 1985) found that early entrants into college programs experience much pleasure at being among an intellectually and socially similar group of people.
Interpersonal problems at school can result from--or be made worse by--inappropriate educational placement (Robinson & Weimer, 1991). The team must consider whether acceleration would be more likely to alleviate or exacerbate these kinds of problems.
Student, Parent, and School Attitudes Regarding Acceleration
VanTassel-Baska (l991) discusses how cultivating a student's willingness and enthusiasm for whole-grade acceleration is critical to the process' ultimate success. Consulting during the decision-making process with an adult who is knowledgeable about acceleration, encouraging parents to provide out-of-school activities that intellectually stimulate and challenge their children, and emphasizing to students that some form, of additional academic challenge will emerge from their having been identified as highly talented are all recommended methods for generating student support.
Southern and Jones (1992) warn that whole-grade acceleration that is attempted late in a student's academic career, perhaps in high school, may increase reluctance by the student to separate from peers and current school settings. In addition, if parents and educators are apprehensive about the acceleration, it is more likely that the student will be reluctant to attempt a leadership or social role in the new placement.
Attitude and Support from the Parents
The nature and extent of involvement of parents in the lives of their children are extremely important to school success. Unfortunately, one extremely prevalent myth is that parents of high-ability children are either hurrying those children through their childhood or are pushing them into situations for which they are not yet ready (VanTassel-Baska, 1991). Existing research, however, supports the view that most parents have a positive impact on their highly gifted children. In a survey of more than 3,000 academically talented elementary students and their families, Colangelo, Assouline, Chen, and Tsai (1998) gathered information about perceptions of parent involvement in their children's academic and social lives. Over 80% of the students felt that their mothers were involved "about right" in both school and social activities. Over 75% felt the same about their fathers. More importantly, of the remaining students, fewer than 5% felt that their parents were involved "too much." In fact, up to 10% perceived their parents as being involved "too little." Colangelo (1998), Bloom (1985), VanTassel-Baska and Olszewski-Kubilius (1989), and Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, and Whalen (1993) are others who document the important role of the parents in these areas.
Kitano (1985) described ways in which parents of young, high-ability children frequently demonstrate their interest. These parents asked to be notified of upcoming topics of instruction so that those areas could be discussed at home. These parents also read to their children and volunteered time in the classroom.
Whole-grade acceleration can trigger a higher level of involvement from parents (Colangelo, 1997;
Sosniak, 1997). The importance of this is reflected in a study by Cox, Daniel, and Boston (1985), who interviewed 52 award-winning scholars and artists, one-third of whom were accelerated during their school careers, and found that virtually all of them reported parents who expressed interest in their children's education (parent educational background notwithstanding). The respondents also credited their parents with allowing them to develop a sense of direction without pressuring them to succeed.
The importance of involving parents in decision-making about acceleration as soon as possible is supported by Piper and Creps (1991), who describe a pattern in which parents often enter the process with strong views one way or the other. As more assessment data are generated, however, those making the actual decision tend to focus on professional judgments.
Attitude and Support from the School System
Southern, Jones, and Fiscus (1989) found that educators are reluctant to use early admission and acceleration practices, despite decades of research that consistently demonstrates positive changes in academic achievement and a lack of negative impact on social and emotional growth. Southern and Jones (1992) similarly found that teachers who knew that a Student had been. accelerated were more likely to blame difficulties on the acceleration than on normal variations in behavior.
Teachers, in general, indicate a reluctance to accept student placements that are not age-normal, even though they also agree that many high-ability students need intervention to ensure academic challenges. Some teachers of students who are being considered for whole-grade acceleration even feel a sense of failure, as though they have been unable to teach those students (Piper & Creps, 1991).
Not all educators display such reluctance or discomfort with grade-skipping, however. Coordinators for gifted and talented programs demonstrate the highest acceptance levels of whole-grade acceleration as a practice, while personal experience (that of self or of a family member) is the single factor most often associated with a favorable view of acceleration.
Some educators are more successful than others in working with whole-grade accelerated students. High-ability students often recall teachers who were demanding of them and yet supportive as significant contributors to the development of academic talent (Cox, Daniel, & Boston, 1985). Teachers who are self-confident and who are able to apply their knowledge about high-ability children are generally most effective with such students (Whitlock & DuCette, 1992).
Acceptance of early admission to school and whole-grade acceleration is hindered because these two practices are often viewed as identical. However, many of the concerns expressed by educators about whole-grade acceleration are more properly applied to early admission. Much more information about a student's school performance and behavior is available in cases of whole-grade acceleration than is typically available in cases of early entrance. Despite somewhat negative perceptions of acceleration, Piper and Creps (1991) point out that it is widely agreed that the school is responsible for seeing that there is congruence between a child's abilities and the curriculum.
Results and Planning
Southern and Jones (1991) identify some important points to be considered when planning for the immediate and long range effects of whole-grade acceleration. In the short term, careful discussion should involve the incorporation of a grace period into the acceleration process so that the student's knowledge gaps and transition into the classroom can be accounted for in a way that does not reflect long term on the student's record of school achievement.
Piper and Creps (1991) recommend that a review process should precede the planning to implement a student's acceleration. Among the components of the review process are an analysis of the student's needs, demands on new placements, and any adjustment difficulties that can be foreseen. In addition, a consensus decision about programming for the student is recommended, since disagreements have the potential to cause difficulties at a later time. Allowing all team members to express their views, and avoiding forced votes, are key. Finally, monitoring of the placement is important to ensure mat the best option for meeting the student's academic needs has been implemented.
If careful consideration and thorough planning are put into effect, whole-grade acceleration and early entrance to school can be extremely beneficial to high-ability children. Nothing is 100% effective all of the time, but as the research demonstrates, giving exceptionally talented children a chance to find academic challenge and intellectual peers through whole-grade acceleration and early entrance to school are viable and sound interventions.
Reprinted by permission from the Iowa Acceleration Scale, 2nd Edition Manual, published by Great Potential Press, Inc. This article may not be reproduced without permission of Great Potential Press, Inc.
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