What factors should we consider when discussing acceleration?
Advanced academic ability, high aptitude, and strong achievement in school are the most important factors to consider. Testing is essential to determine the level of the student’s ability and achievement. Other important factors to discuss include the student’s motivation, attitude toward learning, and social/emotional development. Another important factor in making a decision about acceleration is how supportive the school personnel are concerning acceleration. Finally, physical development is also a consideration. Students who are small for their age will stand out in a class with older students. In addition, if athletics are very important to a student or his/her family, other alternatives to acceleration might be considered.
The age of the student also factors into the discussion. The younger the student, the greater are the concerns about age differences. For example, we might be more concerned about the two-year difference between a 3rd and 5th grader than between a 9th and 11th grader. This should be balanced with the knowledge that it is easier to skip a grade at a younger age. Finally, one of the most important questions to ask is, “Does the student want to skip a grade?” After all, the student is the key to making acceleration a success.
Advocacy: Working With Your Child’s School
You may need to educate some of the decision-makers at your school about the research on acceleration. This is a well-researched area of gifted education, yet acceleration is not implemented very often by schools. In addition to speaking to the principal, teacher, and gifted teachers, you might present information to the school board and encourage them to establish a school district policy on acceleration. Resources to share with school personnel include A Nation Deceived and the Iowa Acceleration Scale.
Get involved in your local gifted organization. These organizations are often affiliated with the National Association for Gifted Children (http://www.nagc.org/). If you attend local affiliate group meetings, you'll meet other families dealing with similar situations. They may have specific tips that will help you. In addition, working together with other families will have a greater impact on the school system than one lone voice requesting these changes. Remember that school system changes take a long time. Your child might not benefit directly from a newly developed program, but future students will benefit from your efforts.
When advocating for your child specifically, make sure you have objective information. Sharing test scores and other objective information with school personnel is essential; these scores will support your case that your student has already learned the current grade’s material and is ready to learn more. Ability, aptitude, and achievement testing is needed. Also, curriculum-based assessment (tied to the specific curriculum offered in your school) is extremely useful.
Credit and Placement
It's always best to get appropriate placement for a student. This means that the student is doing work at the correct level. Students may or may not be able to get credit for that work. For example, some middle school students are permitted to take high school classes, but they are not allowed to get high school credit for the work; some schools do not permit credit because the students are not technically high school students. These decisions are typically made on a school-by-school basis.
In order to place a student in the proper level of a course such as mathematics, testing with a final exam might be necessary. For example, a student who took an online class in Algebra II might take her high school final exam given to the Algebra II students to demonstrate he or she has learned the material.
Early entrance to college
Before considering placing a student in college, ask yourself, "Is the student ready academically for the college work?" and “Has the student has already exhausted the high school curriculum?” Talented high school students should take advantage of the most challenging courses their high schools have to offer. They should exhaust these challenging opportunities before entering college early. The focus should be on rigor, rather than speeding through the curriculum in order to move on to college.
Accelerating a student in elementary or middle school may result in a student being able to stay in high school for all four years and still be adequately challenged. Alternatively, it will be important to plan carefully if the acceleration occurs during the high school years, so the student is able to complete those challenging courses before entering college.
Skipping the last one or two years of high school may be the right decision for some students. Will the student miss out on opportunities for scholarships or perhaps on the opportunity to be admitted to a selective college? Talk to the admissions officers at the colleges your child is considering. Tour the campuses and get the answers to your questions so you can make an informed decision.
The research on acceleration and early entrance to college is overwhelmingly positive for the vast majority of students who accelerate. However, there are individual cases of students who were unhappy with their decision to accelerate.
In studies about young college students’ experiences with acceleration, the students reported temporary inconveniences (such as not being able to date or to drive), but they felt those temporary inconveniences were worth it. They liked being more challenged and being placed in classes with older students. Some commented about feeling lucky to have 'saved' some time. They felt they had an advantage in their life plan; they could take a year off to travel or do some other enriching activity, or they could use that extra time to pursue a higher level degree.
One of the major concerns about acceleration is the worry about ‘gaps’ in a student’s background. The Diagnostic Testing->Prescriptive Instruction (DT-PI) process is very useful in this case. The student is tested in the specific subject area to determine what he/she does and doesn't know. The teacher working with the student can examine the test results to determine what topics the student does not understand. The teacher can then spend time only on those areas. A lot of time is saved when tailoring instruction in this way, and we can be reassured the student has a thorough background in the subject before accelerating. This process was originally developed for mathematically gifted students by Julian Stanley. It is described in detail in Assouline and Lupkowski-Shoplik (2005).
The DT-PI process can be used both for short time periods and for the longer term. For example, one young student had already learned quite a bit of algebra on her own; she wanted to take Algebra II rather than Algebra I during the next school year. She correctly answered 87 percent of the questions on the Algebra I final exam. The teacher worked with her for about 2 weeks before the beginning of the school year on those topics she had not yet mastered. By the time school started, she was fully prepared to start Algebra II with the rest of the class. This made a lot more sense than sitting through an entire year of Algebra I just because she hadn’t mastered all of the topics taught in that course.
What are the alternatives to a grade skip?
For whatever reasons, if your student does not skip a grade in school, other alternatives for devising a challenging educational program should be considered. These include: subject-matter acceleration, enrichment with the regular classroom, enrichment provided by a pull-out teacher (perhaps the gifted teacher) or a mentor, completing independent projects, participating in competitions or clubs, or taking a class via a distance learning program. Summer programs, such as the ones offered by the university-based talent searches (CTY at Johns Hopkins, CTD at Northwestern, TIP at Duke, etc.) can also provide appropriate challenges while enabling students to remain with their age peers. Concurrent enrollment (where a student takes some classes with older students and other classes with age-peers) and individually paced instruction in the area of strength are other options to consider.
Should My Child Skip Another Grade?
For students who have already skipped one grade, sometimes it becomes obvious that a second grade skip is needed. Research shows that it is better to wait a year or more after the first acceleration, monitor the student’s adjustment, and then consider the second acceleration. The same questions that guided the discussion about the first acceleration are appropriate here, including academic readiness, developmental factors, interpersonal skills, and attitude and support.
Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2005). Developing Math Talent. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Assouline, S. G., et al. (2009). The Iowa Acceleration Scale: Manual (3rd edition). Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Gross, M. U. M. (2004). A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa. www.nationdeceived.org.
Rogers, K. (2002). Re-Forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Research synthesis on acceleration: http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10004
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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