Types of acceleration and their effectiveness
Acceleration is a strategy that allows a student to progress through school at a faster than usual rate and/or younger than typical age. There are several forms of acceleration to consider for any individual student. The main ones used successfully in Australia are:
Isn’t acceleration hot-housing and therefore stressful?
No. It is important to realize that acceleration does not mean that gifted students are being made to speed up and learn faster than they are already willing to, but rather that schools are allowing students to progress at something closer to their natural or preferred rate of learning.
Holding back gifted students is much more likely to be stressful for them, or harmful in other ways (such as teaching them to ‘coast’ along, which may deny them the opportunity to learn to cope with intellectual challenges).
Acceleration means we have taken off the brakes!
David Elkind, well-known for his book, The hurried child, makes this point when he states: ‘Promotion of intellectually gifted children is simply another way of attempting to match the curriculum to the child’s abilities, not to accelerate those abilities. What promotion does for intellectually gifted children is to make a better fit between the child’s level of development and the curriculum.’ (Elkind, in Smutny, Veenker & Veenker, 1989, p.105.) That is, Elkind acknowledges the legitimacy of acceleration as a strategy for the gifted. A characteristic of gifted students is their ability to ‘reason at a level usually found in a student some years older’, so acceleration is a logical way of addressing this.
What does the evidence tell us?
The research evidence on the effectiveness of acceleration is very positive. For example, contrary to many people’s expectation, the evidence shows that acceleration does not damage students socially or emotionally.
In fact, grade skipping has been found to aid social relations (as well as academic achievement), while concurrent enrolment has been found to enhance psychological adjustment.
Most forms of acceleration have been found to produce substantial academic benefits, too, as Karen Rogers (2002) reports:
The Senate Committee (2001, p. xiv) concluded that 'there is overwhelming research evidence that appropriate acceleration of gifted students who are socially and emotionally ready usually has highly advantageous outcomes.’
But doesn’t it cause social adjustment problems?
On the contrary, the somewhat surprising finding (given teachers’, and some parents’, concerns about this matter) is that grade-skipping tends to produce a strong improvement in social adjustment (along with a small gain in self-esteem). As Rogers (2002, p. 168) comments: ‘It is noteworthy that when these children do move to the higher grade, they are, in fact, more likely to make friends, perhaps because the older children may have similar interests or are slightly more socially mature.’
A testimonial from the large-scale Richardson study supports this positive conclusion: ‘Our files are full of stories about youngsters, named or unnamed, happily studying two, three, even four years ahead of their age-mates. In general, the social adjustment of these precocious youngsters is improved by placing them with their intellectual peers rather than their age-mates’ (Daniel, 1989, pp. 50-51).
While the research evidence shows that acceleration usually has positive consequences for gifted students, it is not a ‘magic bullet’ that cures all academic and social problems.
Acceleration alone may not be enough to eliminate a student’s existing social difficulties (in the words of one student: ‘Acceleration didn’t make me a social misfit. I was one already!’), so social skills may need to be addressed separately.
Also, a single grade skip is unlikely to be sufficient to satisfy the academic needs of a highly-to profoundly gifted student.
There are documented cases where acceleration did not produce the positive outcomes usually found, but in most of these a large part of the failure may be attributed to the inappropriate ways in which the acceleration process was managed.
Hence: acceleration needs to be seen as an ongoing process, not just a placement decision, so one that requires careful planning and implementation.
Fortunately, very practical guidance is available to enable teachers to increase the likelihood of success.
Guidelines for deciding whether and how to accelerate
Well established guidelines exist to help teachers decide whether acceleration may be an appropriate way to meet the needs of any gifted student and, if so, how best to implement it.
International Guidelines on Suitability for Accelerated Progression
Some of the guidelines used internationally to assist school Principals in determining gifted students’ suitability for accelerated progression include the following:
Adapted from Feldhusen, J. F., Proctor, T. B. & Black, K. N. (1986). Guidelines for grade advancement of precocious children, Roeper Review, 9 (1), 25-27.
This article is reprinted with permission of GERRIC and originially appeared in Core Module 6: Developing programs and provisions for gifted students.Bailey, S. (2004) Types of acceleration and their effectiveness. In Core Module 6: Developing programs and provisions for gifted students. In Stan Bailey, Miraca Gross, Bronwyn MacLeod, Graham Chaffey, Ruth Targett and Caroline Merrick. Professional Development Package for Teachers in Gifted Education. Canberra, Australia: Department of Education, Science and Training.
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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