Academic Acceleration


When investigating appropriate educational environments for your gifted child, it is always important to fall back on just what it means for a child to be a gifted learner. When a student is considered gifted, this doesn’t make them more or less special than any other classmate. What this does mean, however, is that gifted learners grasp and master educational concepts at a faster rate, with fewer repetitions, than their non-gifted peers. For example, a typically bright child may take six to eight repetitions of material to achieve mastery. The gifted learner, on the other hand, only needs to be exposed to content once or twice to master the same material. (In fact, studies have shown that more than two repetitions can be detrimental to a gifted child’s learning.) Enabled to learn at their own pace, gifted children have the potential to learn an additional semester’s worth of content every school year compared to their non-gifted classmates.

Because of this speed of learning, gifted children greatly benefit from having some form of acceleration incorporated into their educational plans, and the various educational options outlined on the previous pages can serve to address this need. Whatever methodology is employed, however, it is crucial to stress that these tools should be utilized to allow gifted children to explore more and to learn more… they should not become just more work. For example, if gifted children are given a pull-out option of small group instruction in mathematics, they could be allowed to investigate concepts and ideas not covered in the core curriculum, or to investigate the class’s subject matter in greater depth and complexity. They should not be given merely longer or more problems of the same material the rest of the class is already doing.

While subject-level acceleration fits the needs of gifted students specifically in the areas where they are advanced, parents may also want to consider grade-level accelerations (i.e., grade skipping) as well. Educators sometimes resist this intervention, citing concerns over the social well-being of children who are advanced one or more grades. But while acceleration may not be appropriate for all children, studies have overwhelmingly shown that grade-level accelerations are positive experiences for gifted children, especially when it comes to their social-emotional environments, as gifted kids frequently feel more at home among their older, intellectual peers. Alternatively, we need to realize we could be damaging gifted learners by retaining them in a particular grade just because of their chronological age. Accelerated children continue to perform at a comparably high level in their new grade, significantly outpacing gifted classmates who did not accelerate.

The most successful grade-level accelerations are ones where a team-based approach is used to develop a concrete plan for the accelerated child’s success.  Resources like the Iowa Acceleration Scale Manual are available to help schools and parents quantify whether it is the right step to take for their child. With effective support in their new environments, gifted children can easily bridge any gaps in learning resulting from the grade skip and continue to absorb new material at their
accelerated pace. The Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy was developed by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), the Belin Blank Center at the University of Iowa, and the Council of State Directors of Programs for the Gifted to help schools and districts develop a policy.

More information on various forms of academic acceleration is included in the NAGC Acceleration Position Statementforms, and you may also read about common educational beliefs and practices that often run counter to evidenced based research on acceleration practices in A Nation Deceived.

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