Category Archives: Math

Acceleration Considerations

This isn’t my first run at the difficult topic of acceleration. In February 2015, I addressed how acceleration was a  (Not So) Simple Fix, and more recently in a post about Math and the Gifted Learner, I reflected on acceleration as one of the options available to students who were gifted in math. Having been involved in many accelerations and conversations about acceleration over the past few years, it is rare that I have a straightforward, rubber stamped, “this child is perfect” for acceleration meeting. Here are some of my observations from full grade accelerations.

  1. Sometimes the testing does not look like we would expect. I have had situations where the cognitive testing has not matched up with the off-level or achievement testing.  While the IAS (Iowa Acceleration Scale) allows for some flexibility on this, it is important that the team discussion take a careful look at demonstrated levels of achievement and what might be contributing to a lower cognitive score, particularly if there are gaps in subtests so appropriate supports can be put in place if necessary.
  2. The interpretations of the testing results may vary. As the gifted specialist, I get to work with different psychologists as we review applications for acceleration. I have worked with psychologists who have recommended acceleration to parents based on testing results that fall below the IAS recommendations. I have had psychologists recommend against acceleration when the testing supported what was outlined by the IAS but they felt that the cognitive flexibility results were lower than they would like to see. While testing is only one part of the process, it is important to weigh everything out carefully during sometimes difficult conversations.
  3. The other interests of the student. Students who are actively involved in competitive sports may find that they are disadvantaged at certain points in their development. One student recently pointed out that the only drawback to acceleration has been the fact that being one of the smaller players on the team has felt like a disadvantage. While they are likely to grow out of it, it may have a longterm impact if this sport is part of a career goal.
  4. The receiving school and teacher. Never accelerate a child into a situation where the receiving school and teacher are not supportive.  Even when they are supportive, monitoring expectations is important. It may take time for a child to adjust academically and socially to the grade skip. Teachers sometimes have expectations of how a gifted child “should be” that differ from the child who is being accelerated behaves. Sometimes students are comfortable with other students knowing they’ve been accelerated while others want it kept very low key. Other students have experienced frustration that the fact they’ve been accelerated isn’t acknowledged as an accomplishment. As students get into the higher grades, a single grade acceleration usually goes unnoticed, students who have been accelerated more than a single grade will continue to need advocacy and support as they are in a sense a “visible minority” and will need to continue to manage perceptions.

These observations around acceleration get complicated when they become part of the news like the recent article in the Business Insider that is interested in defining a certain measure of success for a particular group of gifted students. The article draws on research that supports acceleration and creates a sense of urgency around  the necessity of challenging our youth while focusing our perceptions of “genius” on a particular set of variables. While it tracks the success of 5000 students at or above the 99th percentile, the actual number of individuals who constitute 1% of the total population of the US is well over 3 million people who, I imagine, are as diverse as any group of 3 million people. Those of us who work with an even larger group of students (the top 2.2%) get caught up in the urgency in unexpected ways while working to act in the best interest of the gifted.

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Mathematical Thinking

Since our gifted education program began, one of the most difficult areas of need to address has been math. When I ask students to set goals, one of the top requests revolves around wanting to move ahead in math. When I talk to teachers about these requests the conversation generally leads to the need for understanding and mathematical thinking versus acceleration. As I was told earlier this week when speaking to a math consultant, a fast processing speed does not necessarily equate to true mathematical giftedness. When I consult the literature I am told that higher levels of engagement come when the appropriate level is found.

Another factor seems to be whether the student and/or the teacher are mathematical thinkers and truly engaged and interested in math theory and the perplexing problems that math has yet to unravel. Several students have indicated that even though they want to experience acceleration in math, it is not an area of passion. But can you develop a passion about something when you don’t take the time to really “dig in”? I have also encountered teachers who have told me that while they feel comfortable teaching the math at their grade level, they don’t feel comfortable when a student asks to move beyond that level. Can we expect all teachers to be expert mathematicians?

And so I am constantly on the look for good resources. I came across an article at Prufrock Press this week where math teacher Thomas Tretter talks about the four ways to modify math for gifted students: acceleration, enrichment, sophistication and novelty. In this article, he focuses on how developed a math program for students based on sophistication, with lots of great examples and discussions.