One of the most difficult conversations that I have had with educators and parents over the years has been around the topic of acceleration. You would be amazed by the number of “I knew someone who skipped a grade and it was the worst thing…” stories that I hear when the subject comes up. It seems as though everyone knows someone who skipped a grade and then failed miserably in life. Interestingly enough, the research does not bear this out. I know this because before I began considering putting together an acceleration procedure for our district, I had to get past my own assumptions about acceleration and embark on a massive hunt for relevant research. If you are interested in seeing the research for yourself start with this meta-analysis by Steenbergen-Hu and Moon or Hattie’s Effect Sizes from Visible Learning. And of course you need to take a look at A Nation Deceived by Colangelo, Assouline and Gross. But don’t stop here. Keep looking.
Once you’ve explored the research the most important thing to know is that while acceleration is considered one of the most straight forward and cost effective educational interventions, it is far from a quick and simple fix. Since we’ve approved the procedure in our district I have had the opportunity to sit on several acceleration review committees and work with a number of accelerated students. This is not an intervention that is appropriate for all gifted students neither is it a magic pill for those who are accelerated. The Iowa Acceleration Scale has proven to be an excellent guide for steering the conversation with parents and teachers through many difficult questions. Are they socially mature enough? How might this impact other children in the family? How might being younger than all the other students in their class impact them at higher grades? Does the teacher and school support this intervention? What support will need to be provided in the year(s) to come to adequately support this student?
If giftedness were simply about advanced cognitive abilities rendering a child able to do work that is well above their grade level, acceleration would be a “no-brainer”. All we would have to do is find the appropriate “level” and place them there. But giftedness is so much more complex than that. These are students who are struggling to balance their expectations of themselves against the expectations that they perceive from the people and world around them. These are children who sometimes allow us to see the intensity of their sensitivities but oftentimes do not. These are individuals whose strengths may be diverse, asynchronous and well out of our range to adequately assess and understand. So even if we do accelerate it is important to remember that this in itself is likely not enough. Ongoing support and counselling with people who understand giftedness will be important. When you don’t fit neatly into the system, it can help to understand why you may not fit in and how to cope with the “difference” that most people will not be able to understand.