MonTAGe: Academic Acceleration
reprinted from MonTAGe, Volume 1, Number 1, April 8 1996
editor Valorie J. King
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From The Editor's Desk
Academic Acceleration: What is it?
Research Report: Academic Acceleration (Ten-Year Longitudinal Study)
Guidelines for Implementing Academic Acceleration
Parent to Parent: Preparing For A Grade Skip
Parent to Parent: Our Experience With Early Entrance To College
Problem Solving 101: Dealing With Opposition To Acceleration
Problem Solving 102: Making Your Argument For Acceleration
Problem Solving 103: Making Handwriting A Non-Issue
In this, the first issue of the TAGFAM E-Journal, we explore the subject
of Academic Acceleration. Of all the options, academic acceleration is
probably the least understood and most under utilized method for providing
an appropriate education for academically talented or intellectually
We are grateful for the many families on the TAGFAM mailing list who have
shared their concerns and experiences regarding academic acceleration.
Thanks also to our friends in the academic and professional communities
who've passed along research citations and pointers to resources both
on the Internet and elsewhere. You may find the following ERIC Digests
to be of interest to you as well:
ERIC Digest #526: Should Gifted Students Be Grade Advanced?
ERIC Digest #527: Nurturing Social/Emotional Development of Gifted Students
Acceleration, plain and simple, is being flexible. Acceleration means giving a child schoolwork that is in keeping with his or her abilities, without regard to age. It can take many differing forms:
- grade skipping
- advanced placement or accelerated pacing for individual subject areas
- early entrance to school or college
- enrollment in college courses while still in high school
- special fast-paced courses (classroom, summer, or correspondence)
If your school:
- groups gifted students together for instruction;
- allows children to work at their own ability levels regardless of age or grade;
- provides differentiated instruction for gifted students including flexible pacing;
- emphasizes and teaches critical thinking, creative thinking, and research skills . . .
Then your child may not need acceleration.
But, if your child experiences:
- months or years in school where she learns nothing new;
- cooperative learning groups where he is forced to teach or tutor other students because "he already knows this stuff;"
- a rigid classroom environment where she must stay with the group despite having mastered the material on her own;
- the elimination of separate programs for gifted students . . .
Then acceleration may be the way for you to:
- keep your child happy and interested in school
- prevent academic underachievement
- prevent behavior problems caused by boredom, frustration, or anger
Keys To Parenting The Gifted Child. Sylvia B. Rimm, Ph.D. (c) 1994
Barron's Educational Series, Inc. Chapters 17-19. ISBN 0-8120-1820-6
$5.95US Paperback, 186 pages, full index.
The research shows acceleration to be effective in meeting both the
academic and the social needs of gifted children. One of the most
frequently cited research studies is the "Ten-Year Longitudinal Follow-Up
of Ability-Matched Accelerated and Unaccelerated Gifted Students" by
Swiatek and Benbow (1991). The study's conclusions state, "The findings
do not support the common concern that gifted students may be harmed
by accelerative experiences." In summation, the authors state:
"The results of this study suggest that the common beliefs that acceleration puts bright students at a disadvantage academically or psychosocially should be reconsidered. Avoidance of the implementation of acceleration in the education of gifted students, whether male or female, does not appear to be supported by the present study or by earlier empirical research. Rather, accelerated students appear to benefit by gaining at least 1 year that they can devote to their own interests, such as professional or advanced educational development. We conclude that highly gifted students who desire to accelerate may benefit from being permitted to advance in their academics as far as they are willing and able to go."
This is a study worth reading if you have gifted children or work with
Swiatek, M. A. & Benbow, C. P. (1991). "Ten-Year Longitudinal Follow-Up
of Ability-Matched Accelerated and Unaccelerated Gifted Students."
Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 83 No. 4.
1. A comprehensive evaluation of the student's academic skill levels,
intellectual functioning, and socio-emotional adjustment should be made
by a psychologist.
2. The child should have an IQ of 125 or greater or have an above average
level of mental development for the target grade level.
3. The student should be able to perform above average on skills tests
for the target grade level before being grade advanced. Students who are
advanced in a single subject area should be permitted to work at the higher
level for that subject. Students who are deficient in only one area may be
grade advanced provided that tutoring is available in that area.
4. Care should be taken to insure that adjustment problems, if they exist,
will not be exacerbated by the grade advancement. Counseling should be
made available to the student and his parents to help with any adjustment
difficulties that may arise.
5. Physical size is not important but physical health is. It is not
necessary that a child be held back due to smallness of stature relative
to the other students in the target grade.
6. The psychological assessment should include a determination of the
parents' and child's attitudes towards the acceleration. No child should
be accelerated against her wishes.
7. The receiving teacher(s) should be agreeable to the acceleration and be
willing to help the child adjust to the new situation. Hostility or
pessimism on the part of the receiving teacher is to be avoided. Find
another teacher or postpone the grade advancement until a more positive
situation can be achieved.
8. The behavior of precocious children is often misinterpreted by teachers
and administrators as socio-emotional immaturity. Misbehavior, in the
precocious child, may be due to frustration, dissatisfaction with an
inappropriate instructional environment, or boredom. Judgments about the
child's readiness for the higher grade level (relative maturity and
developmental level) should include input from the parents and the
9. The beginning of the new school year is a natural "transition point"
for implementing a grade-skip. Mid-year acceleration, however, may be
just as successful provided that it is made at a logical stopping/starting
point in the curriculum (e.g. just before the start of the Spring grading
period). Other logical transition points include: kindergarten to second
grade, skipping the last year of elementary school or middle school,
and entering college after the Junior year of high school.
10. Grade advancement should be implemented on a trial basis and the child
should be made aware that if it does not go well she may request to
return to the lower grade. A trial period of about six weeks is usually
more than enough. Counseling services should be made available to the
both student and teacher during the trial period.
11. Avoid building up excessive expectations for the grade advancement.
The child should not be pressured or made to feel as if he is a failure
if the grade advancement does not work out well. Realistic expectations
are the key to success. Some very precocious or academically advanced
children may still be bored in school even after the grade advancement.
Additional grade advancements may be necessary in years to come.
12. Grade advancement decisions should be based upon factual evidence
and information rather than upon anecdotal reports of successes or
failures. The research on acceleration of gifted students shows that
adjustment problems, if they occur, tend to be minor and temporary in
nature. The research also shows that concerns regarding possible negative
effects of grade advancement upon social or emotional development are
Failure to advance a precocious child may result in poor study habits, apathy, lack of motivation, academic underachievement, maladjustment, and behavioral
Reviews of the research on acceleration have shown that:
(1) There is no basis for the belief that grade-advancement will result in either social-emotional maladjustment or gaps in learning;
(2) grade advancement results in far more positive consequences than negative ones (both in measures of performance and measures of parental and student satisfaction with the acceleration);
(3) academically, it doesn't matter which grade the student "skips."
Benbow, C. P. & Swiatek, M. A. (1991). "Ten-Year Longitudinal Follow-Up of Ability-Matched Accelerated and Unaccelerated Gifted Students." Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 83 No. 4.
Feldhusen, J. F., et al. (1986). "Guidelines For The Acceleration of Gifted Students."
Roeper Review, Vol. 9 No. 1.
Many people responded to my TAGFAM request for help in preparing for my daughter's impending grade skip. The over-riding theme in the responses
was that social problems are probably going to happen whether or not she
skips a grade. Some of the pearls I got from the responses were reality
checks and good advice, others (see *) may have actually identified the
source of some of the problems we're seeing right now as we try to prepare
my second grader for entry to fourth grade next school year.
1* Don't borrow trouble.
Be aware of potential problems but don't make yourself and your child crazy over what bad things MIGHT happen, and keep emphasis on the many positive things that can happen.
2* Re-examine the 'rotation through all the 3rd grades' plan.
This may make a real spectacle out of the child, rather than allowing her simply to assume her rightful place. It will likely increase her stress and decrease her easing into the new peer group.
[Editor's Note: The principal initiated a "rotation plan" whereby Karen's daughter spent time now in classes with her "peers to be" so that she would have time to get to know these children before the grade skip occurred next school year.]
3. Facilitate social contacts in the new grade.
Use community social activities & groups (e.g. scouting), team sports, etc. give her as many
possibilities to form new friendships OUT OF SCHOOL as possible, including inviting individual kids over. For in-school social contacts, facilitate single kid contact to avoid cliques/groups.
4. Be sure the receiving teacher is agreeable to the grade skip.
It also helps if the teacher is trained in gifted child education. The attitude of the receiving teacher can make or break the success of the move.
5. Expect a few problems.
The first few weeks will be tough on everyone, especially the accelerated child. But it will get better and probably wind up
better off than had we not skipped.
For those of you who have listened to me talk about my eldest son for
the past 5 or 6 years -- an update is in order. Over those years I feel
a little like I've moved from terrified parent, wondering if I was out of
my mind to consider letting my 11 year old son go to college, to feeling
like the experienced old hand encouraging others to go ahead and accelerate
their bright youngsters when it seemed needed. Anyway...
My son is now 16, and expects to graduate the end of summer quarter with
a BS in geology (minor in math), finishing all but summer field geology
this quarter. He applied for graduate admission to UC Berkeley, Stanford,
Cal Tech, and MIT. He was accepted with generous full fellowships from all
All three accepting universities really rolled out the red carpet for him
and he had great fun visiting all three. After a lot of agonizing over
which offer to select he has decided to go to Cal Tech next year. He's
understandably quite excited. I'm glad he picked the one closest to home,
while we plan to let him live on campus, I'm very glad he's going to be at
Conclusions of general interest; Apparently his chances of getting into a
good graduate school program were in no way diminished by either his
extreme young age, nor by the fairly mediocre academic reputation of Cal
State Los Angeles, his undergraduate school. This seems to be generally
true of the students on the early entrance program at CSULA. Many of his
friends are also sorting through some very attractive offers at various
graduate or medical schools.
For those in the LA area, the next early entrance program screening exam
is April 28, 1996. If you've got kids in the 11 to 15 year old range that
you think might be interested drop me a line and I'll send you the data
needed to sign up. The program has been wonderful for my son. They had 70
kids in the program this last year.
Thanks all for listening. I'll be glad to field questions from those of you
who are interested in exploring the early college option.
Jan Slater or Rich Maddox
Early Entrance Program
Department of Psychology
California State University
5151 State University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032-8227
Phone: (213) 343 - 2287
"If I were required to choose the single essential skill from the many
that make up the art of argument, it would be the ability to listen ...
[some individuals] can never understand the issues before them because
they have never learned to listen. Listening is the ability to hear
what people are saying, or NOT SAYING as distinguished from the words
-- Gerry Spence in his book "How To Argue and Win
OK, you're convinced. Acceleration, in the form of a grade skip, is the
best option for your child at this point in time. The next hurdle is the
meeting with the teacher for next year. How do you prepare for it? You
prepare by listening, first to your child and your child's current teacher.
What are they saying about the grade skip? What are their worries and
concerns? What positive things does each one have to say about the grade
skip? What's the downside? Next, try to get inside each teacher's mind.
How does each one run his or her classroom? What special concerns might he
or she have?
"We cannot argue until we understand what the argument is about." (Ibid) Is the argument really about your child's handwriting or failure to
have the multiplication tables memorized? Or, is the unvoiced objection
"my name is mud around here if this doesn't work out." Listening for what
is NOT said is just as important as listening to the actual words that
are spoken. Watch for body language clues -- have you ever seen someone
who says "yes" with their voice but "NO!" with their body? Look for it.
Here are some additional ideas to consider:
1. The argument may not be about your child at all.
Beware of situations where one or more of the teachers feel that their professional stature or competency is under attack. Also, be aware that there may be friction between staff members in the school that will affect decisions made concerning your child.
The principal may have legitimate concerns over scheduling problems
and/or disruptions in both classrooms for partial acceleration (e.g. for single subjects).
The staff may be concerned about the school's reputation and/or aggregate test scores if the high ability students are accelerated.
2. Teachers are very sensitive to comments from other teachers.
How would you feel if your co-workers shunned you or talked about you behind your back? Teachers want and need the respect and cooperation of their peers. Your child's current teacher may fear being blamed for recommending acceleration for a student who lacks classroom skills (e.g. has poor handwriting) or for "dumping" a behavior problem into another teacher's classroom.
3. The teacher may be justifiably concerned that the child's cognitive development does not match the level required for the new grade.
In the elementary years, children move from what is called "concrete" thinking to "abstract" thinking and reasoning. Classroom activities and assignments are structured differently for children who are concrete thinkers than for those who are abstract thinkers. Gifted children are often capable of complex concrete reasoning. But, developmentally they may not be able to make the jump to abstract reasoning. This can cause frustration and tears in the classroom when the child is unable to complete assignments requiring abilities that, developmentally, are beyond him. Science, social-studies, and language-arts are three areas where abstract reasoning abilities may be required at the higher grade level.
4. The teacher may be concerned about not having the time, energy, or resources required to handle "yet another special case" in her classroom.
The classroom teacher may be justifiably concerned that she will not have the time necessary to help the gifted child catch-up or adjust in the classroom. Mainstreaming combined with budget cuts has placed the burden of making adaptations for children with disabilities upon many classroom teachers.
These are just a few of the many possible road-blocks that you may
encounter. In preparing for your meetings with teachers and other school
officials it helps to try to see things through their eyes. What do they
think the problems and pitfalls are likely to be?
Finally, remember that how you present yourself and your child's case
matters greatly! Are you the type of parent that this teacher looks forward
to dealing with? Or, has your demeanor tipped her off that every meeting
with you is going to end with her having a migraine headache?
"Getting What You Want: How to Reach Agreement and Resolve Conflict Every Time." Kare Anderson. (c) 1993. The Penguin Group (Plume). ISBN 0-452-27053-7
"How To Argue And Win Every Time." Gerry Spence. (c) 1995. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-11827-9
Adapted from "How To Argue And Win Every Time" by Gerry Spence
1. Prepare. Know both sides of the argument. Know their side better than
they know it themselves. What are the reasons NOT to accelerate your
child? "Good preparation is like writing a script." Know what you are going
to say and when you're going to say it.
2. Empower the other side so that they will listen to your argument. This
means listening to them first and making them feel like you've heard
what they've said.
3. Make your argument in the form of a story. Use parables or metaphors
to hook their unconscious minds. Use positive images to convince and gain
4. Tell the truth. Be credible. Truth is power.
5. Tell them what you want. State your goals explicitly. What do you
want to have happen for your child? Be concrete. Vague, wishy-washy
requests are likely to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Don't leave
the others guessing about what you want. Remember the power in asking for
"justice" or "fairness" rather than insisting upon "rights."
6. Avoid sarcasm, ridicule, attacks upon individuals or their professional
credentials, or scorn. Use humor carefully. Remember that "Respect is
7. Be creative. Do not overlook the power of using a logical argument.
Seek a balance between logic and creativity. Remember that not everyone is
open to a logical argument. Be careful in the use of emotion-based
arguments. Acceleration can take many forms. Be prepared to educate the
school staff. Be prepared to receive new information from them and
incorporate it into your argument.
8. Take the initiative. Action and winning go hand in hand. "The best
defense is a good offense." A staff member will probably "run" the
meetings but that doesn't mean that you must sit back and wait to be
"called on" before speaking.
9. Admit the weak points. You can do a better job of presenting the
areas where your case is weak. Don't give your opponent the chance to
use your side's weak points to derail your argument. Honest appraisals
add to your credibility and increase your power. What are your child's
weaknesses? How can you help your child make up these deficits?
10. Understand your power. Trust yourself to make the winning argument. You are your child's best advocate. Give yourself permission to WIN.
But, remember that winning doesn't mean that the other side must lose.
Avoid arrogance, stupidity, and insolence.
1. Play video games, catch-the-ball, and other "fun" activities that help develop hand-eye coordination. Ask the P.E. teacher for ideas.
2. Practice using pencils, crayons, markers, etc. to draw lines, ovals, squiggle drawings, mazes, abstract art -- ANYTHING BUT LETTERS. Try art projects or other fun activities. Or, learn calligraphy together. Try drawing fancy letters such as balloon letters, blocky letters, etc.
3. Practice writing without looking at the page or tip of the pen/pencil.
4. Cutting with scissors helps develop coordination and muscle strength.
5. You can't control what you don't have -- the more the forearm muscles are used, the stronger they will be and the better the child's control will be. Grasping and throwing (tossing) activities will help.
6. Encourage the use of a word processor for homework.
7. Offer to transcribe from the child's dictation.
8. Where possible, encourage alternate forms of assessment such as oral examinations (e.g. for spelling or math). Be sensitive to the impact
of these activities upon the teacher's time or classroom management.
Last updated February 16, 2010
MonTAGe: The TAGFAM E-Journal © 1996 Valorie J. King