This information was produced by the staff of the Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development (B-BC) at the University of Iowa (belinblank.org). The resources and information listed here are for informational purposes; there is no direct or implied endorsement by the B-BC. Services provided by the B-BC include programs for academically talented K-12 and college students, professional development for teachers, the Assessment and Counseling Clinic, the Acceleration Institute (accelerationinstitute.org), and graduate programs and research in gifted education.

printPrinting

Our pages are formatted to be printer-friendly. Simply click and print.

Twitter YouTube FacebookWordPress

Question & Answer

This information was produced by the staff of the Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development (B-BC) at the University of Iowa. Services provided by the B-BC include programs for academically talented K-12 and college students, professional development for teachers, the Assessment and Counseling Clinic, the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration, and graduate programs and research in gifted education.

General Q & A

What is acceleration?

Acceleration is an academic intervention that moves students through an educational program at a rate faster or at an age that is younger than typical.

Acceleration helps match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum with the readiness and motivation of the student. It is about creating a better match between a student and the level and pace of instruction.

Acceleration does NOT mean pushing a child. It does not mean forcing a child to learn advanced material or socialize with older children before he or she is ready. Acceleration is a strategy that respects individual differences and acknowledges the fact that some of these differences merit educational flexibility.

What are the types of acceleration?

There are at least 20 types of acceleration.

For many people, “acceleration” is synonymous with "grade skipping," although grade skipping is just one type of acceleration. Grade skipping is the type that tends to receive the most attention. Other types of acceleration include receiving instruction at a higher grade level in a particular subject (single-subject acceleration), enrolling in classes at two different levels at the same time (dual/concurrent enrollment), or taking distance learning courses. Specific information about each type can be found starting on page 9 in Volume II of A Nation Empowered.

Is enrichment the same thing as acceleration?

No. Enrichment and acceleration are not the same thing. Enrichment typically means adding something to the curriculum that offers more depth or complexity, while acceleration typically means moving more quickly through the curriculum. When done well, acceleration includes enriching opportunities offered at an appropriate level and pace for the student. Therefore, we shouldn’t think about acceleration OR enrichment, we should think about acceleration AND enrichment.

Which type of acceleration is the best?

Choosing an accelerative intervention requires careful consideration of many factors.

Because there is such a wide range of abilities, talents, and personalities in gifted children, the type of acceleration that works well with one child may not work well with another. The support of family and friends, the student’s level of academic and social-emotional development, the student’s age and physical development, and the beliefs of local school personnel are all factors to consider. For example, students who skip grades need emotional maturity as well as academic ability in order to succeed. With single-subject acceleration, however, the more important criterion is academic ability, and social-emotional maturity may be less of a concern.

A comprehensive assessment and feedback from psychologists and teachers can help recommend appropriate forms of acceleration. The Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS) is a useful tool to guide the decision-making process regarding whole-grade acceleration.

Why should a student be accelerated?

Acceleration is a matter of educational equity. All children deserve the opportunity to develop their talents. Lack of academic or intellectual challenge leads to disengagement.

Educational equity might mean remedial efforts for some at-risk students and acceleration for some academically able students. Just as a low achieving student can be hurt by lack of access to remedial instruction, a high achieving student may be hurt by lack of access to an appropriately matched curriculum.

In classrooms across the nation, the intellectual needs of gifted children are not being met. Children who enter school excited to learn can become bored, restless, and unmotivated when they are repeatedly given work below their level of achievement and are told they cannot work at their level. When these students are not given opportunities to grow, they may develop behavior problems or, paradoxically, underachieve. These students do not learn how to cope with academic challenge, which makes it very difficult or even impossible for them to reach their full potential.

Students given the opportunity to be with intellectual peers and work to their potential tend to have a more positive outlook on school, maintain an interest in learning, develop socially and emotionally, and sustain a healthy self-concept.

Acceleration should be open to all academically able children, regardless of economic means. Some families have the financial resources to provide accelerative options through private schools, mentors, and private lessons. However, all students have the right to learn, and schools must provide curriculum flexibility for all students.

How is the decision to accelerate made?

The decision to accelerate is best made in concert by the student, parents, teachers, and other professionals after careful evaluation of the student’s academic and social-emotional needs.

The question about whether to accelerate initially may be raised by parents, who can be the first to notice the mismatch between their child’s intellectual level and the level of school work. The mismatch may become apparent when their child complains of being bored at school or exhibits certain negative behaviors in the classroom but not in other settings in which there is a better intellectual match. For example, a gifted student may seem distractible at school but not at home. Teachers, school psychologists, or gifted and talented coordinators also may make recommendations for acceleration.

Acceleration decisions should be based on a psycho-educational assessment from a licensed psychologist, evidence of academic accomplishment (achievement) well in advance of age- and grade- peers, likelihood of continued accomplishment, and discussions between parents and their child’s teacher, principal, or other school administrators. A gifted student may also want a voice in the decision. In fact, the discussion about acceleration is sometimes initiated by the student.

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS) is a tool to help in the decision making process regarding a child’s suitability for whole-grade acceleration. For more information on acceleration policies and best practices, please see our report, Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy.

Are there some gifted students who should not be accelerated?

Students benefit when the curriculum flexibly meets their learning needs. However, acceleration may not be appropriate for every student who has high academic performance.

In particular, grade skipping may not benefit a student who is not socially and emotionally ready or whose level of academic development varies across domains. Instead, that student might benefit from subject-matter acceleration or from other educational options. Acceleration may not be the right solution for a student who expresses a preference for the status quo. The academic needs of such students would be better met with accommodations in the classroom.

How many students are accelerated in the United States?

No records are kept that systematically detail how many students benefit from acceleration.

In light of the push for educational standards and school accountability (for example, the No Child Left Behind legislation), studies detail how many at-risk and learning-disabled students receive curriculum adjustment based on academic need. Unlike the extensive record keeping that surrounds at-risk students, schools, states, and the federal government tend not to keep records documenting the prevalence of and attitudes about acceleration. This is particularly true for academically talented students in elementary and middle schools.

Nation-wide surveys, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES; 2013), provide a glimpse into acceleration options available to high school students. The NCES reports that, in the 2010-2011 school year, 82 percent of public high schools offered dual credit courses (simultaneously earning high school and postsecondary credit by taking college level courses; 2 million students). Dual credit courses can have an academic focus (e.g., English, math, writing) and constitute an accelerative option, or they may have a career or technical/vocational focus (e.g., automotive technology). Of the 2 million students enrolled in dual credit courses, 1.4 million took classes with an academic focus. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses were offered in 69 percent of schools (3.5 million students). Many high schools, especially large high schools in towns and urban fringe areas, are making some accelerative options available for students.

Some parents pursue other educational options such as homeschooling and private schools. We do not know how many students in these alternatives to traditional education are gifted and/or receive instruction above their age and grade level. Anecdotal reports suggest that homeschooled children work one or more years ahead of their age group, suggesting the need to study acceleration in alternative forms of education.

If acceleration is a recommended practice, why don't more schools do it?

Schools avoid acceleration for many reasons.

  • School administrators, teachers, and others are often unaware of the benefits of acceleration and incorrectly believe that it is harmful to students.
  • Many teachers do not know that acceleration is a viable option for gifted students or have only limited knowledge of acceleration. Although there is a large body of research about acceleration, it has not been widely disseminated to the education community or the public.
  • Many of the nation’s Colleges of Education do not teach about giftedness or acceleration to future teachers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, and administrators. This is due, in part, to the belief that curriculum adaptations for gifted students are inconsistent with the democratic ideals of education. This philosophy confuses educational equity with educational sameness.
  • Some education professionals argue that gifted students should be left with age peers for the benefit of those age peers. The belief is that through instructional approaches such as cooperative learning and group projects, gifted students will model thinking and problem solving to the less able students. If gifted students are removed from the classroom, the argument goes, the low achieving students will not have an intellectual role model. This belief puts unfair pressure on gifted students to “teach” their peers and minimizes their opportunities to learn something new every school day. All students, including those who are high-ability, deserve to be students first and focus on their own learning.
  • Concerns about the social-emotional development of gifted children often override the intellectual needs of these children. However, gifted children tend to be socially and emotionally more mature than their age-mates. For many bright students, acceleration provides a better personal maturity match with classmates.
  • Because most school districts do not have policies in place to facilitate acceleration, the process may be unfamiliar. Without a policy or precedent, some administrators are unwilling to try acceleration. Change can be intimidating, and there can be bureaucratic and personal belief obstacles to acceleration.
  • Daycare providers and preschool teachers typically are not taught about giftedness in their early childhood education training. Educators who do not recognize the needs of young gifted learners often overlook children who would benefit from early entrance to kindergarten or first grade. Parents of young gifted children often have no source for information on how to assist their children or how to advocate for them.
  • Because our educational system is designed to meet the needs of the typical student, policy makers may come to expect that all students in a classroom will be at the same intellectual level. Studies show much greater variability in student achievement within grades than between grades. In other words, each classroom encompasses an extremely wide range of achievement and ability, and one curriculum is unlikely to work for all of the students in that classroom.

Parent Q & A

Should I accelerate my child?

Research indicates that acceleration is a social and academic success story; in many cases, it is the right intervention for students whose academic needs are not met in age-grouped classrooms.

The more relevant question might be, "What form of acceleration is most appropriate for my child?" For many people, acceleration is synonymous with grade skipping. However, grade skipping is just one form of acceleration. Early entrance to kindergarten or 1st grade, dual enrollment in high school and college, and subject matter acceleration are other forms of acceleration that may also work for some students.

Choosing an accelerative intervention requires careful consideration of many factors, and the type of acceleration that works well with one child may not work well with another. The support of family and friends, the student’s level of academic and social-emotional development, the student’s age and physical development, and the beliefs of local school personnel are all factors to consider.For example, students who skip grades need emotional maturity as well as academic ability in order to succeed. With single-subject acceleration, however, the more important criterion is academic ability, and social-emotional maturity may be less of a concern.

Will my accelerated child fit in socially and have friends?

Parents and caregivers are deeply concerned about their child’s social and emotional health and want to ensure that their child has friends. Many intellectually advanced children have experienced the social isolation that comes from not having a true intellectual peer in the same grade. Acceleration can benefit some children socially because it allows them to be with older peers who are more likely to share interests and are closer to their intellectual level. For some children, this means that acceleration may finally provide their opportunity to make friends. The social fit is a larger issue for grade skipping than for forms of acceleration, such as subject-matter acceleration, that keep the child in the classroom with other students of the same age.

As parents and caregivers consider the factors around acceleration, they often think about the long-term issues as well. Issues such as being too young to drive when all of the other students have their licenses will come up, as well as dating, cell phone ownership, and other privileges young people earn as they get older. In several research studies, when college students who were accelerated in the younger grades were asked about these kinds of issues, they tended to view them as temporary inconveniences. They thought these inconveniences were worth it in the long run, since the acceleration allowed them to be more challenged academically.

When is the best time for my child to skip a grade?

Two separate time periods need to be considered before deciding to grade-skip:

  • The best time during one specific academic year.
  • The best time within the total K-8 span of the student’s academic career.

Within the Academic Year

The best-case scenario is to implement whole-grade acceleration at the start of an academic year, following an assessment and planning process that has occurred the previous spring. An alternative is to do the entire process—i.e., assess, plan, and accelerate—at the very beginning of a school year, so the student is in the new grade placement prior to the winter break. This approach allows the student to take advantage of the customary review material in the curriculum that is typically covered after the winter break.

Within Academic Career

Clinical experience suggests that the younger the student is when accelerated, the easier the adjustment. Thus, for example, one might consider acceleration when a student has completed preschool and could be accelerated to first grade, skipping kindergarten. For early decisions like this, it is important that a student has experienced a structured classroom, has interacted with peers, and has learned to share adult attention with other children.

Although some educators worry that a child’s motor skills in the early grades may not equal those of children in higher grades, these concerns should usually be viewed as minor, since easy accommodation can be made for lags in motor skills until such time as the accelerated child can catch up. For example, a child whose scissor-cutting skills aren’t as advanced as his or her classmates could be given some assistance with cutting, such as a special pair of scissors or allowed extra time to complete cutting activities. A second example is to provide a child with a larger pencil to compensate for difficulty grasping a standard-sized pencil.

One advantage to waiting for acceleration until after a student has started school is that more information will have been accumulated about his or her learning and behavior patterns. But earlier decisions have the advantage of allowing the child to experience a minimum amount of social disruption and to have more time for developing bonds of friendship and mutual interests before the complications of the adolescent years emerge. Additionally, if intervention for underachievement is not carried out by the end of the upper-elementary grades, it may be more difficult to do so in later years. It is important to remember, however, that each child is different, and there have been successful instances of acceleration in middle school and high school.

The years just before a move to another building, especially between elementary school and junior high or middle school, are difficult times for acceleration. These are considered “transition years.” For example, if the school district’s elementary schools end at 4th grade, and middle school is for 5th-8th graders, the common sense approach would suggest having the potential accelerant skip 4th grade and go straight into 5th grade. This seems sensible because then the accelerated student is one of many new students in a new school, and it is less likely that he or she will “stand out” in the class. While common sense dictates that it is best for a student to skip grades before moving into a new building, clinical data from the Belin-Blank Center indicate otherwise. A move to the next level generally involves a change in the way the school day schedule and extracurricular activities are organized. School personnel often use trips to the new building and other processes to prepare students for the upcoming move. Today, schools don’t just have one spring “move-up day” in which students can go to visit their new buildings. Instead, homework expectations and student responsibilities are introduced and taught throughout the transition year so that, by the end of the transition year, the students know what to expect during the next grade level. It may be better to accelerate during the year previous to the transition year so that the student can participate fully in these transition year activities.

Sometimes, though, circumstances require that acceleration take place during a transition year. The involvemen of current and receiving teachers and the administration at both schools is critical in cases where grade skipping involves a building change. In such instances, it is important to provide students with experiences that allow a preview of classes in the new setting.

How important are the age and school grade of siblings when considering acceleration?

An important rule of thumb in acceleration is that a student not be skipped into the same grade as an older sibling. Such a move will introduce the accelerated child into the social and academic territory of the older sibling. Even if a school offers more than one class at the given grade level or if the accelerated student could be moved to another school, acceleration into the same grade as an older sibling is not recommended.

Students who are not accelerated due to a sibling’s age or grade still need to be challenged, however. Alternative methods for increasing their academic challenge must be identified and implemented. For instance, the school might pair the student with a mentor who works professionally in a field that is related to the student’s academic interest areas. Other ways to increase challenge can be found in books such as Re-Forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child (Rogers, 2002) and include participation in regional or national competitions based upon individual or group projects, through programs such as Destination Imagination™, Knowledgemaster, Invention Convention™, Math Olympiad, and Future Problem Solving. The key is to find ways to provide meaning, usefulness, and structure, and thereby motivation, to a student’s extended learning.

My child is actively involved in sports and extracurricular activities. How will acceleration affect participation in these activities?

Some students who are considered for grade-based acceleration are very involved in competitive group sports such as football, basketball, track, or soccer, and they may want to continue their involvement. Unfortunately, it is rare that being a year younger is an advantage in sports. Grade level acceleration may place some students, either at the time of the decision or later, at a competitive disadvantage in their particular sport. Parents and students should be made aware of this and should be encouraged to discuss any concerns that they may have. Building or district administrators or coaches can be useful sources of information about issues such as athletic eligibility.

There are some situations in which a student being involved in and dedicated to athletics is enough reason to decide against grade-based acceleration. If a student athlete who is ready for greater academic challenge does not skip a grade, then alternative programs, such as mentoring or acceleration in specific subject areas, should be considered.

Students who skip a grade while in elementary school may move to a new grade and classroom, yet still play with their age-mates at recess or participate in other activities, such as Scouts, 4-H, or music. Thus, the student finds different yet appropriate peers with the different settings he or she encounters. Scout leaders and officials of other extracurricular organizations can provide information for how the student should be placed.

Who is involved in the acceleration decision making process?

The question about whether or not to accelerate initially may be raised by parents, who often accurately notice the mismatch between their child’s intellectual level and the level of schoolwork. The mismatch may become apparent when their child complains of being bored at school or exhibits behaviors in the classroom that are not typical of the child in other settings (for example, a gifted student may seem distractible at school but not at home).

Educators often fear that parents of gifted children push their talented children too hard. While such cases certainly exist, they appear to be uncommon. Parents of gifted students are generally appropriately and effectively involved with their children. Parents who initiate requests for consideration of curriculum changes for their children should be viewed by school personnel as advocating for them, and their requests and views should be given serious consideration. These parents usually know their children’s strengths and skills quite well.

Parents or guardians are in the best position to see the scope and breadth of their children’s interests and activities, particularly those that are demonstrated outside of school. As unique sources of information and insight about a student, they are irreplaceable contributors to a decision about acceleration. Often, parents are the only adults who are in a position to seek formal testing by a private psychologist. This kind of testing provides objective information that can ultimately be very useful in the decision-making process.

Parents continue to play an important role in their child’s life once the decision to accelerate has been made. In the beginning, they should talk frequently with the child about the experience of being accelerated. Acceleration may pose novel challenges both socially and academically, and the child may be in need of greater parental support during this time. The new academic situation may be the first time the child has experienced serious academic challenge. The child’s parents can model positive behaviors and discuss coping skills for dealing with these challenges, which may be frustrating at first.

Ultimately, recommendations about acceleration should be based on a psycho-educational assessment from a licensed psychologist, evidence of academic accomplishment (achievement) well in advance of age- and grade- peers, likelihood of continued accomplishment, and discussions with your child’s teacher, principal, or other school administrators. A gifted student may also want a voice in the decision.

What if whole-grade acceleration is not recommended?

Students may be academically ready for accelerated curriculum, but may not be ready to move to the next grade level for any number of reasons - less-developed emotional skills or a sibling in the would-be accelerated grade. In some cases, the academically gifted student may have another exceptionality, such as a learning disability, that is severe enough that whole-grade acceleration is not recommended.

If whole-grade acceleration is not recommended, it is generally the case that some sort of curricular modification is necessary. This modification may take many forms, including single-subject acceleration, attendance at special enrichment/acceleration classes, finding a mentor, encouraging an independent study project, involvement in Destination Imagination™ or a similar program, independent reading, a book discussion group, group or individual counseling, bibliotherapy, etc.

If a student is not accelerated, it may be because he or she has expressed hesitation or reservations about the grade skip. The student’s opinion is very important to the process, and the student should be aware of this, regardless of the decision that is made. If the student will not skip a grade because of the decision of the team of psychologists, parents, and teachers, the student should understand that the decision that was made (whether to single-subject accelerate, provide a mentor, or to keep things as they are) is what the team thinks is best for the student at the time. Older students may need to talk more about the decision with a respected adult than younger students. Members of the team will need to discuss with the student any other options that are available and be prepared to answer the student’s questions about alternatives to whole-grade acceleration.

What reasons am I likely to hear (from the teacher, the principal, or other parents) for why I shouldn’t accelerate my child?

In 2004, The John Templeton Foundation sponsored a report titled A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004). This report highlighted the disparity between the research on acceleration and the educational beliefs and practices that often run contrary to the research. Volume I of A Nation Deceived, presents (and dispels) some of the prevailing reasons given for the why acceleration isn’t accepted in America’s schools. As a parent, you might hear one or more of these reasons from school officials and educators or other parents for why you shouldn’t accelerate your child. Below we reprint these 12 reasons from pages 6-9 of A Nation Deceived.

Reason #1: Teachers lack familiarity with acceleration. Educators in most schools are unfamiliar with the research evidence on acceleration’s benefits.

Response: A primary goal of this report is to eliminate this barrier. This comprehensive two-volume report brings together extensive research on acceleration, and the report is available to all schools at no cost.

Reason #2: Confidence about acceleration isn’t running high. K–12 educators may know about acceleration as an intervention, but they don’t feel confident in using this option.

Response: We respect that all educators make decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their students. The overwhelming evidence about the many academic and social advantages of acceleration should make educators confident enough to consider acceleration.

Reason #3: Acceleration runs counter to personal beliefs. When personal beliefs conflict with research evidence, personal beliefs win out almost every time.

Response: This report invites introspection and dialogue between educators and parents, asking them to reevaluate their beliefs concerning acceleration.

Reason #4: Age trumps everything else. For many educators, age—not readiness—has become the primary determinant for grade placement.

Response: The notion that age equates to grade is out of tune with what we know about individual differences. Research reveals that gifted students are more academically and emotionally advanced than their typical age-mates. Therefore, it makes more sense to think about readiness, rather than age, as the main determinant for grade placement.

Reason #5: Safe is better than sorry. Most teachers see non-acceleration as the safer option—they feel that doing nothing is not harmful.

Response: Doing nothing is not the same as "do no harm." Choosing not to accelerate is itself an intervention. The evidence indicates that when children’s academic and social needs are not met, the result is boredom and disengagement from school.

Reason #6: Acceleration is not taught in Colleges of Education. These organizations, which train teachers, do not prepare teachers and administrators to make decisions about acceleration.

Response: Abundant research material is available, yet professors in Colleges of Education do not present it to future teachers. This report will help inform them. We know that faculty respect research and we hope that they will infuse this information into their course content.

Reason #7: It’s bad to push kids. Teachers and parents see acceleration as hurrying children through childhood.

Response: Acceleration is allowing a student to move at an appropriate pace. By worrying about hurrying,parents and teachers miss the chance to match an enthusiastic, passionate, bright child who has the ability to move ahead with the right curriculum. They ignore the bright student’s need to learn.

Reason #8: New friends are hard to make. Educators fear that children who are accelerated will not adjust well socially to the new class.

Response: Social adjustment in a school setting is a complicated issue. Some accelerated children do not adjust easily or immediately. Children who have felt out of place with students of their own age may need time to develop social confidence.

Although the evidence on social success in accelerated settings is not as clear-cut as the evidence on academic success, it is still much more positive than negative. Acceleration broadens the friendship group. Many gifted children gravitate to older children, so making friends becomes easier.

Reason #9: Individual kids are less important than equal opportunity for all. Individual differences have been sacrificed in the political battles and culture wars about schooling.

Response: When educators confuse equity with sameness, they want all students to have the same curriculum at the same time. This is a violation of equal opportunity.

When it comes to acceleration, the majority of children do not need it. In fact, it would be a disadvantage for them both academically and socially. But for the children who need it, acceleration is their best chance for an appropriate, challenging education.

We know a lot about assessing ability and creating programming tailored to accommodate individual differences. The cornerstone of education is the flexibility to recognize the needs of the individual child. This flexibility is sometimes lost, however, when political and cultural pressures homogenize the learning needs of individuals and we pretend that there are no meaningful learning differences.

Closing our eyes to children’s educational differences is neither democratic nor helpful. Every classroom teacher knows that children have distinct academic and social needs. Acceleration is a respectful recognition of individual differences as well as a means for addressing them.

Reason #10: It will upset other kids. Teachers sometimes fear that accelerating a child will diminish the self-esteem of other students.

Response: This is an important issue. Whatever we do in schools should be based on a respect and concern for all students. In fact, this level of sensitivity is one of the things that makes America special.

However, kids are used to seeing age-peers progress at different rates in many settings such as sports and music. In school, the idea of accelerating one or two children is not likely to negatively affect the class.

Reason #11: There will be gaps in the child’s knowledge. Teachers are concerned that accelerated students will have gaps in their understanding of concepts.

Response: We accelerate students because they are well ahead of their age-peers in their academic development and knowledge. Gifted students are swift learners and any gaps quickly disappear.

Reason #12: Disasters are memorable. Unsuccessful cases of acceleration exist, but the numbers have been exaggerated, as have the reasons for lack of success.

Response: Good news doesn’t make the news. Bad news, on the other hand, sells papers and travels fast in communities. People will repeat stories or greatly exaggerate the situation about an unsuccessful acceleration, even without first-hand knowledge. Researchers acknowledge that acceleration is not perfect and some situations may be less than ideal, but such cases frequently stem from incomplete planning or negative attitudes.

We need to respect that even an intervention that is very well-planned is not fail-safe. A few poor decisions do not negate the importance of considering acceleration as an option. Excellent planning can minimize failures.

What are my rights to request acceleration?

Gifted education policies vary by state. For example, some states allow early entrance to kindergarten and others don’t. You can find out your state’s policies on acceleration through IRPA's state policy page. You can find more information about state policies on gifted education in general at the Davidson Institute's state policy page and NAGC's state policy page.

What might happen if we keep students who appear ready for acceleration at their current grade level?

It is a myth that not accelerating a student who is ready is a safe and harmless choice. Acceleration is a positive step for those students who are ready for the academic and social gains that it provides. It is also the case that “leaving well enough alone”—that is, deciding not to grade skip a student ready for acceleration—is not a decision supported by the research. Potentially, failing to accelerate a student could have negative effects. Students who remain in under-challenging environments are less likely to fully utilize their considerable talents.

It is important to remember, too, that no educational placement decision is irrevocable. Sometimes situations warrant reconsideration. If the grade-skip is not working after two months, there is nothing wrong with allowing the student to go back to the previous grade and try other methods such as enrichment or single subject acceleration. Often, it helps the student and parents if they are assured that other alternatives exist if the whole-grade acceleration does not work out. An acceleration or grade-skip that “fails,” for whatever reason, does not appear to have lasting harmful effects to the student. Having a designated monitor who maintains good ongoing communication with the student, parents, and receiving teacher will go far toward preventing unsuccessful acceleration or at least toward recognizing problems at an early stage.

Are there support groups for parents and children who participate in various forms of acceleration?

There are many websites that deal with issues of gifted children. A few popular sites developed by parents are:

http://www.gtworld.org
http://www.tagfam.org/
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/

These sites provide listserv and other resources for a variety of issues and concerns common to gifted children and their families. The Hoagies’ site has a section dedicated to personal stories and research on acceleration.

How do I know if my child is a good candidate for acceleration?

Good candidates for acceleration show advanced academic ability, high aptitude for future learning, and strong achievement in school. Testing will help to determine the students’ levels of aptitude and achievement and if they are ready academically for grade-based or subject-based acceleration, or if they would benefit more from non-accelerative gifted programming such as enrichment activities, participation in academic competitions, etc.

Other factors are also very important when making decisions about acceleration, including both social and physical development. Does the student fit in well and have friends who are either the same age or older? Having older friends may make the transition to a higher grade easier. Being physically bigger than other students of the same age will be an advantage if the student moves up a grade, since the age difference will be less obvious. Differences in size and physical development tend to be more noticeable in the younger grades. However, research shows that it’s actually easier to accelerate in the younger grades, before students have had the time to form friendships. There is also less concern about gaps in a student’s academic background if he or she enters kindergarten or first grade early.

When making the decision about acceleration, a tool such as the Iowa Acceleration Scale can serve as an objective means of gathering important information. Conversations with teachers, principals and school professionals are also useful components of an acceleration decision, because they can respond to concerns and offer alternative options if acceleration is not recommended.

What can we do to ease the transition to a new grade?

Parents continue to play an important role in their child’s life once the decision to accelerate has been made. In the beginning, they should talk frequently with the child about the experience of being accelerated. Acceleration may pose novel challenges both socially and academically, and the child may be in need of greater parental support during this time. The new academic situation may be the first time the child has experienced serious academic challenges. Parents can model positive behaviors and discuss coping skills for dealing with these challenges.

One of the major concerns about moving a student ahead a grade is the possibility of gaps in the student’s academic background. Pretesting can help resolve the problem. If it is determined that there are important gaps in the student’s background, he or she can meet with a teacher or tutor for a few sessions to fill in those gaps and to be better prepared for the acceleration.

It is also helpful if the current teacher shares information with the ‘receiving’ teacher (the teacher in the higher grade). The receiving teacher would benefit from seeing work samples and things the student has completed at home in order to learn about the child’s interests and abilities. It would also be helpful if the student could meet the receiving teacher before the acceleration occurs, in order to learn more about the expected homework load, organizational skills needed in the new grade, etc.

Parents can also help their children prepare for acceleration by anticipating questions or problems that might arise, such as being teased by other students because they are young. Parents might rehearse some of the answers to the questions people are likely to ask. Additionally, it is helpful if the parent follows up with the teacher (and possibly the administrator) a few weeks after the acceleration occurs just to check in and see how things are progressing.

It is expected that the classwork and homework for the new grade will be more challenging. It’s not unusual for an accelerated student to complain that the work is more difficult or takes longer than before. It will take a little time for the student to adjust to the new demands of the new grade. It might take the student a little longer to complete homework for age-related reasons, such as a shorter attention span. Parents can help by making sure the child’s after-school schedule can accommodate the increased homework; they might consider decreasing the after-school activities until the student makes the transition to the new grade.

Should the student skip another grade?

Some exceptionally talented students who have already skipped a grade find themselves in the position of not feeling adequately challenged in the new grade. Sometimes, a second grade skip would be beneficial. Research indicates that it is best to wait one or more years after accelerating the first time before accelerating again; this allows time to monitor the student’s adjustment. It will be important to reflect on the same questions that were considered during the discussion about the first acceleration, including academic readiness, developmental factors, interpersonal skills, and attitude and support of school personnel, parents, and the student.

Being a "radical accelerant" (accelerated by two or more years) creates unique social situations. The older students frequently treat the younger student positively. Rather than viewing the younger student as a peer, they might treat him or her like a younger sibling or “mascot.” Parents will want to consider carefully the social issues that will affect the younger student, such as dating, driving, and even what topics are discussed in study hall! Parents and the young student should take advantage of the support systems available in the school, including the gifted coordinator and school counselor. Additionally, it is helpful if the young student has peers relatively close in age for at least some activities; these activities might include community music ensembles, Scouts, church youth groups, etc.

If it is determined that a second grade skip isn’t the best option, it is likely that the student might benefit from alternate forms of acceleration, such as subject-matter acceleration, taking fast-paced classes in a summer program, or working with a mentor.

What should I know about early entrance to college?

Many years before the expected high school graduation date, or just a few years before, some students and parents realize that skipping a year or more of high school might be a good option. If this is the case, college admissions personnel recommend that students should complete as many of the challenging courses offered in high school as possible before leaving for college. Students should take advantage of the most rigorous program available, in order to be well-prepared for college. This is also an argument for accelerating at a younger age and staying in high school for all four years.

Students and their families must carefully consider the costs of skipping one of the years of high school. Will the student miss out on opportunities for scholarships or perhaps consideration for admittance to a selective college? Are there other important experiences or opportunities the student might miss? These include not only missing the senior prom or other social activities, but also academic activities such as the Intel Science Talent Search or summer programs available only to rising high school seniors.

Many colleges and universities throughout the United States permit early entrance to college. Some require only specific courses and do not require a high school diploma before accepting a student. This is true even for some extremely selective colleges. In addition, a number of formal programs are in place for early entrants to college, including those at the Texas Academy of Math and Science at the University of North Texas, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at Mary Baldwin College, the Early Entrance Program at the University of Washington, and more. Participating in a special program such as these provide the opportunity to live with other early entrants and enjoy a social life with similar-age students while taking advantage of the academics that a college or university can offer.

More information about early entrance to college.

What does acceleration look like?

Acceleration doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing event. Academically talented students might skip an entire grade or they might move ahead in only one subject. Some students might enter kindergarten early, then skip a grade later on in middle school. Exceptionally talented students might put together different types of acceleration to make a plan that works best for them. For example, a talented 7-year-old might be in 2nd grade for a few subjects, 3rd grade for others, and working with a mentor at the 5th grade level in yet another subject. The best way to think about this is to look for an appropriate match: the student can be placed at different levels for different subjects in order to match the curriculum to his or her abilities and achievements. When students are placed based on academic needs and not based on age, we are truly matching the curriculum to the student and meeting their academic needs.

What are the other options if my child doesn’t skip a grade?
  • Moving up a grade or more in a particular subject, such as math.
  • Participating in rigorous, fast-paced summer programs such as the ones offered by university-based talent searches (the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa, CTD at Northwestern, CTY at Johns Hopkins, TIP at Duke, etc.).
  • Considering dual enrollment, in which students take a class for both high school and college credit. Programs of this nature are available at community colleges and public and private colleges and universities nationwide. Some examples include the College in High School program at the University of Pittsburgh and the College in the Schools program at the University of Minnesota. Working with a tutor or mentor in a particular area of talent and interest.
  • Receiving individually-paced instruction in the area(s) of strength. For example, a student with talent and interest in science may do independent work for a science fair.
  • Participating in academic contests and competitions that allow gifted students to enhance their abilities, meet other talented students with similar interests, and receive recognition for their abilities.
  • Enrolling in distance learning programs, such as GiftedAndTalented.com developed by Stanford University, Gifted LearningLinks at Northwestern University, and CTY Online at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Revisiting the idea of acceleration at some point in the future as the student develops and his or her needs change.
Are there support groups for parents and children who participate in various forms of acceleration?

There are many websites that deal with issues of gifted children. A few popular sites are:

These sites provide listservs and other resources for a variety of issues and concerns common to gifted children and their families. The Hoagies site has a section dedicated to personal stories and research on acceleration.