Too Fast, Too Slow, Just Right – Acceleration for the Gifted Child

May 8, 2012

By Elizabeth D. Jones

Kyle started to read when he was two. He carried the first Harry Potter book with him to preschool and proceeded to finish the book in a week. His preschool teacher told his parents that he needed to skip kindergarten, but the school district said it was against policy and that he should start kindergarten with his age peers. Kyle started to cry every morning and would try to negotiate ways to get out of going to school. He had few friends and was extremely emotionally intense. Reading was the only thing that made him happy. Knowing that something had to change, his parents pleaded with the district to do something. They worked with experts to assess their child and to learn coping mechanisms to help him deal with his intensity. Eventually the child was offered a grade skip, but the policy was not changed and the family was told not to discuss the issue.

In an ideal world, schools would identify and address the intellectual, creative and personal needs of all children. However, large class size, lack of funds, philosophical differences, inadequate teacher training, wide variety in student abilities and a myriad of other issues prevent this from being a reality.

Many gifted children only have the option of participating in advanced extracurricular programs. While a lifeline for highly able students, these classes are held after school and on weekends, which means students remain unchallenged during the traditional academic school day.

Research is clear on how to best meet the needs of gifted and highly gifted children in school, and it involves some form of academic acceleration. Acceleration is a program, service or administrative decision that shortens a student’s time in a course of study. Schools that offer services for gifted students are usually comfortable with subject area acceleration, curriculum telescoping and compacting. These forms of differentiation are good ways for students to remain engaged in learning.

Unfortunately, many parents are met with resistance when advocating for services for their bright young children. As experts in gifted education, we continually advocate for change to ensure that all bright, curious kids have a chance to be successful. Unfortunately, lasting effective change in our schools can take years, and these brilliant floundering students need challenging and enriched learning opportunities now.

Acceleration in the form of grade skipping is most common in early years of elementary school because it is often easier to determine basic mastery of content and skills. Research has demonstrated that, with solid planning, a grade skip is a positive solution to meeting the needs of highly able students.

Grade skipping

  • Requires limited financial resources
  • Positively impacts academic progress
  • Strongly improves social adjustment
  • Results in higher self esteem

Tom Southern and Eric Jones share that high ability students who are accelerated are actually more likely to make friends with students who have similar academic interests and are more socially mature.

study published in 2001 was conducted on 320 adults who were accelerated as highly gifted children 10 years earlier. The study found that more than 70% had no regrets about the experience. Of those that reported regret, 20% indicated they wish they had been accelerated more.

In our experience, the students who have the most satisfying experiences with acceleration are those who are performing well beyond their grade level peers, have an IQ score above 140 and have demonstrated frustration with the level and pace of instruction in the classroom. We have also noted that highly able students who are self-directed, excited and focused when presented with rigorous new challenges, have multiple interests and are somewhat socially mature do extremely well with grade skipping and advancement in single subjects.

Thoughts on what schools should do to accommodate the needs of highly able youth

  1. Develop policies to address acceleration, including
    1. Criteria for grade skip, subject area acceleration and telescoping
    2. Credit or placement based upon performance
  2. Train parents and teachers on forms of acceleration and strategies for success
  3. Offer advanced placement and honor classes to student in middle school and high school
  4. Provide information on early admission to college or dual placement

It is important to continually monitor the success of student progress academically, socially and emotionally. Kyle was accelerated again in third grade and entered junior high when he was ten. He participates in advanced enrichment classes, sports and music programs after school. For now it is a good balance. He is happy and is still interested in learning.

How does your child’s school respond to the need for acceleration? Please share your experiences with us in the comment section below!

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