Acceleration - An Option to Consider

The articles and books (see reference list below) on giftedness and acceleration mostly agree that acceleration is beneficial. Researchers acknowledge that the practice of allowing students to move into higher grades is often rejected on social and emotional grounds, yet almost all agree that there is very little evidence to support this reaction. There are other concerns, including suggestions that accelerated learners might miss something when they skip grades and they might develop attitudes of superiority and arrogance, and that such practices go against the democratic nature of schools. Thoughtful research will reject these arguments.

Researchers such as Kulik and Kulik (1987), Tolan (1990), Feldhusen (1986) and Brody and Benwick (1987) found that accelerated students did not suffer academically, socially or emotionally, although there is a preference for earlier rather than later acceleration. On the issue of gaps in knowledge, they found that with so much repetition, gaps occurred less often and were ‘…seldom a significant problem for gifted children who tend to learn quickly and well’ (Lynch, 1994, p. 1).

The key, is the term ‘well-planned’. Parents and educators must work together with the child to determine educational needs (Feldhusen, 1986). To be successful, academics maintain that the individual requires total support from all the parties involved. This is particularly true for the child, who must be willing and happy to be accelerated, although there should be a trial period, and assurances given that the child will be returned to his or her 'normal' class if the situation becomes untenable (Braggett, 2001).

Acceleration is more than just grade skipping. There are in fact a few different options when considering acceleration. Feldhusen (1986) defines it as speeding a student’s passage through school in one of a number of ways:

  • Curriculum acceleration within a year level;
  • Curriculum compression or compaction;
  • Subject acceleration;
  • Grade or year skipping.

There are more useful insights in Acceleration Guidelines written by Judith Hewton. Contact Judith on tel: 07 3844 3034 or email: judith [dot] hewton [at] qagtc [dot] org [dot] au. She can provide assistance to those seeking acceleration or early entry.

Although there is research by Australians (Eddie Braggett and Miraca Gross), there is not very much very recent material. There are other researchers to examine such as Rogers & Kimpston whose meta-analysis argues that there is no evidence collected that concludes gifted children suffer because of acceleration. It’s too frequently discarded as an option.

An American publication, Handbook of Gifted Education (Colangelo and Davis), updated in 1997, presents an interesting theory which basically says that offering more work isn’t the answer for gifted students.

The explanation of the Catastrophe Theory is complicated, but in its essence the authors argue that three essential components of curriculum design (content, process and product) all have to be enriched (abstract rather than concrete concepts) and accelerated (units completed in a shorter time frame) for there to be a real ‘qualitative differential’ to gifted learners. This theory makes a lot of sense.

The Senate Report into Gifted and Talented released on Oct 2nd, has as one of its recommendations (no.6) that "(t)he Commonwealth should propose that MCEETYA develop a consistent policy encouraging suitable acceleration for the gifted" (2001: p.62). There is confusion because not only is there little consistency from state to state (NSW seems to be the most accommodating), there is also little consistency between schools in the same state. These inconsistencies were identified by the committee as impacting significantly on the education of gifted children.

Despite the overall positive findings of the research, schools remain reluctant to accelerate students. It seems that parents must continue to actively attain evidence to support their attempts to find the most appropriate education for their children.

 

Reference List

Berger, Sandra, L., (1991). "Differentiating Curriculum for Gifted Students", ED342175 91, ERIC EC Digest #E510 (www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content/diff_curriculum.html)

Braggett, Eddie, (2001). Informal discussion during and after a seminar on Giftedness.

Colangelo, Nicholas, and Davis, Gary, A., (1997). Handbook of Gifted Education (Second Edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Feldhusen, J.R, Proctor, T.B, and Black, K.N., (1986). "Guidelines for Grade Acceleration of Precocious Children", in Roeper Review, Vol. 9 (1), pp. 25-27.

Lloyd, Linley, (1999). "Multi-Age Classes and High Ability Students", in Review of Educational Research. Vol. 69 (2), Summer, pp. 187 – 212.

Lynch, Sharon, J., (1994). "Should Gifted Students Be Grade-Advanced?", in ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education: Reston, VA: ED Identifier: ED370295. (http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/e526.html)

Rogers, Karen and Kimpston, Richard. D., (1992). "Acceleration: What We Do Vs. What We Know", in Educational Leadership, October, pp.58 – 61.

Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small business and Education References Committee, (2001). The Education of Gifted and Talented Children. October, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Winebrenner, Susan and Devlin, Barbara, (2001). "Cluster Grouping of Gifted Students: How to Provide Full-Time Services on a Part-Time Budget", in ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, Arlington, VA: ED Identifier: 451663. (www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content2/cluster_grouping.2.html).

 

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