Academic Acceleration

When investigating appropriate educational environments for your gifted child, it is always important to fall back on just what it means that your child is 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 often mean, however, is that they grasp and master educational concepts at a faster rate, with fewer repetitions, and with greater complexity than their non-gifted peers. Indeed, Reis et al. (1993; found that gifted students could successfully eliminate as much as half of the standard curriculum without any loss of achievement; the authors suggested that this was partly due to the large amount of repetition and review of prior year's content.

Because of this speed of learning, gifted children often benefit from having some form of acceleration incorporated into their educational plans. Acceleration allows children to access content that is normally not taught until a later grade level, and often results in credit that may ultimately result in early graduation from high school. There are many types of acceleration and not all are available in every school. A few more common examples are:

Whole-grade acceleration (grade skipping or double promotion; e.g., leaving first grade in June and entering third grade in September)

Subject acceleration (e.g., "honors math" where the child is enrolled in a class at least one grade level higher than their other courses; may be a standard class entered early or a special class tailored to gifted learners)

Curriculum compacting (eliminating content the child knows to buy time for enrichment, such as interest-based projects or increased depth and complexity of content related to grade-level content)

Early entrance to K, high school, college

Dual-credit courses

Educators and administrators sometimes resist parents’ requests for acceleration, particularly grade-skipping, due to concerns about students’ social-emotional well-being. But while acceleration may not be appropriate for all children, studies have overwhelmingly shown that grade-level accelerations are usually 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. Conversely, we need to realize we could be damaging gifted learners by retaining them in a particular grade just because of their chronological age.

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 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. If your school district does not have an acceleration policy or plan, the document Developing Academic Acceleration Policies 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 may be a helpful place to start.

More information on various forms of academic acceleration is included in the NAGC Acceleration Position Statement, and in-depth analyses of evidenced-based research on acceleration practices are available in in A Nation Deceived and its follow-up study, A Nation Empowered.