Types of Acceleration. Content adapted from A Nation Empowered
Twenty years ago, we faced a tough decision. Our oldest son was a second grader in a combined 2nd and 3rd grade class. He was already subject-accelerated in math; his classroom and gifted resource teachers wanted to move him to third grade for all subjects. I remember receiving research articles supporting acceleration every week from Mrs. H. as she lobbied us to agree to the change.
We pondered the potential problems. What would he miss academically by skipping the rest of grade 2 and the beginning of grade 3? When would he learn cursive handwriting? How would he feel about being the last to get his driver’s license? What about sports and Cub Scouts and dating and college?
It took us the entire third quarter of grade 2 to agree to the whole grade acceleration. Once our decision was made, I told my grandma. It turns out that more than fifty years before my son’s grade-skip, Granny had done the same in a one-room schoolhouse! The process went something like this: one day, her teacher said, “Frances, why don’t you come over here and work with these kids today?” Her only wrinkle in the whole process was that, as a 17 year old high school graduate, she had to fudge her age to get into nurses’ training in 1930. Decades later, she still laughed that the State of Indiana’s nurses’ licensing board thought she was a year older that she actually was.
In my son’s case, we ran into some bureaucratic issues Cub Scouts, and he did have a few weeks in his freshman year of college where he wasn’t ‘supposed’ to use the gym equipment until he was 18.
Acceleration in its various forms can be helpful for many students, but it cannot be applied as a one-size-fits-all solution for every gifted, talented or advanced learner. It takes careful understanding of the academic, social and emotional needs of each student. Overall, the grade-skip was the right thing for my son at the right time. While we agreed to this type of acceleration for one child, it was not necessarily appropriate for our other children since they happened to have academic peers without grade-skipping.
Our oldest son recently told me that although others may see grade-skipping as taking away a year or more of childhood, he saw it as giving him an extra year in his twenties. He took a full year during college to do his own learning by setting up internships. To some degree he attributes his current success to going from being the one ‘smart kid’ in his class to being in a class where he found a community of peers, where he had some friendly competition, where he found others with the incentive to achieve at similar levels.
While students have been academically accelerated since before my grandma’s time, lack of awareness about the benefits of the various forms of academic acceleration often prevents it from being seen as a viable option for students. In 2004, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students outlined the disparity between the research-based best practices for challenging our academically talented students and the academic acceleration practices and policies in place at the time.
The follow-up report, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, has just been released, detailing current acceleration research and policies and providing information for making decisions about academically advanced students. While the practice of acceleration in its many forms has improved over the past ten years, there is more we can do.
I encourage you to download a pdf or purchase a print copy of A Nation Empowered. Share it with others! Our role as advocates is to share the information with other parents, educators and policymakers so we can work together to improve the opportunities available for gifted children.