a review provided for gifted students

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"Acceleration's potential as an escape hatch from boredom is extremely important. The lack of challenge ... in school is not only tragic, it's damaging. Dr. Julian Stanley, Director of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Johns Hopkins, believes that adhering to conventional academic timetables can compromise the furtures of highly able students. While the accelerants with whom Dr. Stanley works have almost all enjoyed very successful college careers, talented students who complete high school entirely in step with their age-peers may have more trouble in college. One possible explanation: academic boredom at a young age can lead to lack of motivation and less developed work habits"

Many schools rarely consider acceleration either by grade or by subject, despite the fact that it is inexpensive, simple, easy for parents and students to understand, and has repeatedly been shown to be effective and appropriate. The possiblity of acceleration simply has not occurred to many district educators. All the available research suggests that accelerated instruction should be among the first options considered for very bright children.

The academic effects of acceleration

The evidence on the academic benefits of acceleration is so strong that the efforts of some researchers have shifted from documenting its benefits to attempting to explain the apparently perverse reluctance of educators to adopt it. Others have agreed that the debate should shift from the question of whether acceleration is a good idea to the question of what criteria should be used to decide when acceleration is appropriate.

Ability grouping by itself has been found to yield limited benefits for gifted children unless it is accompanied by a enriched or accelerated curriculum. Karen Rogers in 1991 and Kulik in 1992 found that the benefits of acceleration for such children are substantially greater than those of enrichment: when high-ability students were grouped and offered a standard curriculum they outperformed matched controls by one month; with "tailored instruction" they outperformed peers by three or more months; when they were offered an enriched curriculum they exceeded peers in mixed classes by four to five months; and when they were offered an accelerated curriculum they outperformed peers by nearly a full year.

There is a little evidence suggesting that children benefit academically from "pull-out" enrichment programs of the sort that used to be provided by the Portland School District. However, there is much more substantial evidence that when acceleration and ability grouping are combined, the students within the groups are likely to gain significant academic benefits. It has also been shown that such ability grouping does not harm the academic achievement of children who are not included in these groups and may actually benefit those "ungrouped" children both academically and psychologically.

A major research review of grouping practices by Karen Rogers in 1991 found that, whereas full-time ability grouping (tracking) for regular instruction made no difference for the academic achievement of average and low ability students, it made a major difference in the academic achievement of gifted students. Rogers also found that ability grouping for enrichment and other forms of ability grouping, such as grouping within the classroom, also resulted in gains for the gifted. On the other hand, she found that cooperative learning in mixed-ability groups could not be shown to benefit gifted students. Grouping for acceleration produced significant gains when it occurred in the form of ungraded classrooms, curriculum compacting, grade telescoping (completing middle or high school early), subject by subject acceleration, and early admission. Advanced Placement produced a "nearly significant" gain. Acceleration did not appear to have any direct impact on self-esteem. Not only does ability grouping for acceleration result in astonishing academic improvement, but it also offers a solution for the other problems raised above. Because the accelerated children are grouped together and are closer to their other accelerated classmates in age, they are also likely to be closer to each other in physical development, maturity, and gross and fine motor coordination. They are also less likely to be oppressed by a school culture that isolates gifted children as "weird," "geeks" or "nerds."

Guidelines for selecting appropriate students and for determining appropriate levels of accelerated instruction.

The discussion below will focus on the three of the most common acceleration options: "grade skipping," single subject acceleration and advanced classes. There is no question about the benefits of acceleration for appropriately selected children but there is neither a consensus nor a satisfactory research base for deciding which children to skip, or what level of acceleration is best for any given child. The Johns Hopkins program for Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) has experimented with radical acceleration, sometimes to the extent of sending extremely gifted children to college in their early teens. Overall their results have been positive, as have similar experiments at the University of Washington. The few Australian students in Miraca Gross's study who skipped several years reported great satisfaction, as have a few American parents who have written to the two TAG online listservs.

However, most gifted children are not ready for such drastic measures. Moreover, most such studies concern children who are extremely gifted in mathematics and also happen to be precocious in other subjects. There is little information about children whose language skills are much more advanced than their mathematical ability. Nor is there much information about the ages at which acceleration is most likely to be successful, although some authors recommend acceleration at the times of transition from one school to another. In a meta-study of 19 previous research syntheses Karen Rogers and Richard Kimpston concluded in 1992 that "Grade skipping for bright children ... appears to be very beneficial. Its greatest research-supported academic and social effects appear to be in grades 3-6." Of the few studies that recommend specific criteria for acceleration, most propose standards that are far more lenient than those used in practice by the School District. For example, in 1986, Feldhusen, Proctor and Black recommended the following criteria, paraphrased as follows:

there should be a comprehensive psychological evaluation of the child's intellectual functioning, academic skill levels, and social-emotional adjustment by a psychologist

The child should have an IQ of 125 or a level of mental development above the mean for the grade he or she desires to enter.

Academically, the child should demonstrate skill levels above the mean of the grade desired.

The child should be free of any serious adjustment problems, however, when adjustment problems are caused by inappropriately low grade placement, grade advancement may alleviate the problem.

The child should be in good health.

The psychologist should determine that the child does not feel unduly pressured by the parents to advance. The parents must be in favor of grade advancement, but the child should express the desire to move ahead.

The receiving teacher must have a positive attitude.

Because teachers often confuse misbehavior caused by inappropriate instruction with immaturity, judgments about a precocious child's maturity should include input from parents and psychologists,

Mid-year advancements may sometimes be desirable,

All grade advancement should be arranged on a trial basis of six weeks, with counseling services available,

The child should not be made to feel he or she is a failure if the trial does not succeed. Alternatively, some children may need additional advancement.

Failure to advance a precocious child may result in poor study habits, apathy, lack of motivation, and maladjustment.

Miraca Gross recently reported that these criteria are at present being used successfully in New South Wales.

In Parents Guide to Raising a Gifted Child, (1985) James Alvino recommends grade-skipping on a trial basis if a child has

scores in the 99th. percentile or two or more years above grade level in both reading and mathematics,

I.Q. of 135 or more,

either good grades but frustration, or average to poor grades indicative of frustration,

maturity evidenced by ability for independent work

evidence of maturity as shown by ability to evaluate own work, express agreement and disagreement, and feelings

good relationships with adults or older children and

an ability to undertake independent work or responsibility at home, that exceeds what is evident in school.

Alvino does not explain what research underlay these recommendations. [pp 268-9].

These rules for identifying candidates for grade skipping would include many, perhaps most of the children who currently qualify for Oregon TAG services. The I.Q. score that represents the top three percent of the population is approximately 130, and such children typically test at least two years ahead of grade level. Portland schools would indeed appear to be too conservative in this regard.

Before discussing actual policy concerning placement, it is important to understand what "grade level," means in test scores. To obtain a "grade level" score, achievement tests are given to large numbers of children. The scores obtained by children in a given grade are averaged, and that number represents an approximate "grade level" score. If we say that a given child "reads at grade level," what we mean is that the score that that child received on a reading test is close to the average score for all children at a given grade level who took that test. This is a level that would be attained by an "average" or "typical" student. However, in any classroom there is a large range of actual students with very different reading abilities, none of whom is truly average. The typical student in such a classroom, provided the material is appropriate for the class, is likely to receive a grade ranging between "B-" and "C-" and to be having some difficulty with assignments. To say that a gifted child reads at a "sixth grade level" does not mean that he or she reads as well as the typical bright or successful sixth grader. Normally, when educators say that a given child reads at a "sixth grade level" they mean that that child has scored as well on a given test as would average sixth grade students if they had taken that same test. It does not necessarily mean that the younger child has the breadth of knowledge, the understanding, or the experience that even an average sixth-grade student brings to a reading assignment.

Nothing is gained by accelerating children to the point that they begin to struggle with their assignments, frequently receive grades of "C," or less, or lack the background information necessary to develop a complete understanding of a given subject. Even bright children need to master algebra before they embark on calculus, for example. Instead, the goal should be to find a level at which a child can reasonably expect to be level with the more successful students in the class, while still encountering material that presents some challenge. We want our children to learn that they need to earn their "A" grades, not to make it impossible for them to excel.

The Oregon TAG mandate requires that students be educated at an appropriately accelerated "rate" and "level" but does not define these concepts adequately nor provide guidance for establishing a definition. We suggest that the starting point for finding that ideal level is represented by using the test score that is obtained by the students in the eightieth percentile of a given grade; which we have called the eightieth percentile grade level. Although the number sounds higher, the actual grade that this score represents is lower than the mean or fiftieth-percentile grade level. For example, if a third grader tests at a so-called "seventh grade level" (that is obtains a score that is equivalent to an average seventh grade score), that same score might be obtained by the top 20 percent of fifth graders. A fifth grader who obtained the same score would be in the eightieth percentile of fifth-grade students. That fifth grade level would represent the eightieth- percentile level for the third grader: if the third grade student were to be placed in the fifth grade class, the third grader would be roughly on the same level as the better students in that class. On the other hand, if the third grade student were to be placed in a seventh-grade class, the student would be on a level with students who are already struggling to keep up.

The plan for the third grader should either consider accelerating that child by two grade levels, possibly in stages, or accelerating the child by one grade level but including an advanced math class at a fifth grade level and providing an accelerated or compacted reading curriculum or keeping the child in the third grade but using fifth grade materials. In some cases, the fifth grade reading assignments might be unsuitable for a younger child because they involve disturbing themes or require knowledge that the child does not have. In such cases, the teacher might choose books at a similar level of difficulty. The working assumption of planning should be that children will be taught at that eightieth percentile grade level unless there are good reasons for altering the plan. Individual plans should include the eightieth percentile grade level at the top and should be reported on PALT score reports that are sent home.

The curriculum offered should be clearly pegged to a given grade level and should not normally include vague comments about enrichment activities or philosophy. We expect that, using the 80th percentile grade level as a guide to desirable acceleration goals, most TAG children will be placed within a single year of their existing grade level assignment, but that significantly more will be "skipped" in the future. In every case, however, individual plans will still involve fine-tuning to adapt curriculum to the needs, interests and strengths of each child. A discussion with the Evaluation and Testing department has suggested that determining this 80th percentile grade level using PALT scores is a practical possibility, and TAG department personnel appear to feel that accelerating children at this rate might be a reasonable approach to planning.

We have found no studies that use this approach, however, except for a variation that has been used in a successful Early Entry Program at the University of Washington. We therefore recommend that if this approach is adopted, it be periodically evaluated to determine (1) whether it is a helpful approach to determining how TAG children should be served and (2) whether the 80th percentile level is the best level to choose. A further refinement would be to remove the top three percent, the TAG children, when calculating this 80th percentile level. The idea is that a child should be accelerated into a classroom where his peers will be the stronger students within the class. If the only peer in that classroom is one other TAG child, and all the other children are significantly below this level, frustration is likely to result, particularly if the plan is implemented uniformly, so that the one TAG child in the receiving classroom has already left for another accelerated class!


The best method for meeting the needs of gifted children is a flexible combination of ability grouping and acceleration. This gives children a better chance to find peers who share their interests and maturity level as well as their academic mastery. It helps teachers to adjust the rate of instruction as well as the level of instruction to their distinctive learning needs. Where appropriate classes are not available at a given school and grade level, simple acceleration is also helpful for many gifted students.

Return to Links for Portland Parents of Talented and Gifted Children

WWW version copyright February 11, 2000 by Margaret DeLacy. All rights reserved.

What does this mean for this year?

After looking over both websites mentioned above, I believe we are doing what is best for Dylan at this time. I believe the acceleration we have Dylan involved in is at his pace and not putting any undo stress on him. If after looking over the resources you think we need to change something, please let the rest of us know and we will discuss it asap.

I am still waiting to hear from some others in the educational field but will pass any info on as soon as I receive it.