Too Fast, Too Slow, Just Right – Acceleration for the Gifted Child

By Elizabeth Jones

Kyle started to read when he was two. He carried the first Harry Potter book with him to preschool and proceeded to finish the book in a week. His preschool teacher told his parents that he needed to skip kindergarten, but the school district said it was against policy and that he should start kindergarten with his age peers. Kyle started to cry every morning and would try to negotiate ways to get out of going to school. He had few friends and was extremely emotionally intense. Reading was the only thing that made him happy. Knowing that something had to change, his parents pleaded with the district to do something. They worked with experts to assess their child and to learn coping mechanisms to help him deal with his intensity. Eventually the child was offered a grade skip, but the policy was not changed and the family was told not to discuss the issue.

In an ideal world, schools would identify and address the intellectual, creative and personal needs of all children. However, large class size, lack of funds, philosophical differences, inadequate teacher training, wide variety in student abilities and a myriad of other issues prevent this from being a reality.

Many gifted children only have the option of participating in advanced extracurricular programs. While a lifeline for highly able students, these classes are held after school and on weekends, which means students remain unchallenged during the traditional academic school day.

Research is clear on how to best meet the needs of gifted and highly gifted children in school, and it involves some form of academic acceleration. Acceleration is a program, service or administrative decision that shortens a student’s time in a course of study. Schools that offer services for gifted students are usually comfortable with subject area acceleration, curriculum telescoping and compacting. These forms of differentiation are good ways for students to remain engaged in learning.

Unfortunately, many parents are met with resistance when advocating for services for their bright young children. As experts in gifted education, we continually advocate for change to ensure that all bright, curious kids have a chance to be successful. Unfortunately, lasting effective change in our schools can take years, and these brilliant floundering students need challenging and enriched learning opportunities now.

Acceleration in the form of grade skipping is most common in early years of elementary school because it is often easier to determine basic mastery of content and skills. Research has demonstrated that, with solid planning, a grade skip is a positive solution to meeting the needs of highly able students.

Grade skipping

  • Requires limited financial resources
  • Positively impacts academic progress
  • Strongly improves social adjustment
  • Results in higher self esteem

Tom Southern and Eric Jones share that high ability students who are accelerated are actually more likely to make friends with students who have similar academic interests and are more socially mature.

study published in 2001 was conducted on 320 adults who were accelerated as highly gifted children 10 years earlier. The study found that more than 70% had no regrets about the experience. Of those that reported regret, 20% indicated they wish they had been accelerated more.

In our experience, the students who have the most satisfying experiences with acceleration are those who are performing well beyond their grade level peers, have an IQ score above 140 and have demonstrated frustration with the level and pace of instruction in the classroom. We have also noted that highly able students who are self-directed, excited and focused when presented with rigorous new challenges, have multiple interests and are somewhat socially mature do extremely well with grade skipping and advancement in single subjects.

Thoughts on what schools should do to accommodate the needs of highly able youth

  1. Develop policies to address acceleration, including
    1. Criteria for grade skip, subject area acceleration and telescoping
    2. Credit or placement based upon performance
  2. Train parents and teachers on forms of acceleration and strategies for success
  3. Offer advanced placement and honor classes to student in middle school and high school
  4. Provide information on early admission to college or dual placement

It is important to continually monitor the success of student progress academically, socially and emotionally. Kyle was accelerated again in third grade and entered junior high when he was ten. He participates in advanced enrichment classes, sports and music programs after school. For now it is a good balance. He is happy and is still interested in learning.

How does your child’s school respond to the need for acceleration? Please share your experiences with us in the comment section below!

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20 responses to “Too Fast, Too Slow, Just Right – Acceleration for the Gifted Child

  1. Our daughter was accelerated in her first year of school. It has been a really good thing for her, and the school has coped it really well. There were some small gaps in her learning, but we are all addressing those as they become apparent. As a 9yo now, she is getting some teasing from other children in her class about being younger, but nothing extreme. We have discussed it a few times, but I don’t think it hurts her to learn the skills of beig resiliency to a little bit of teasing.

    • Thanks for sharing, Terri! I’m glad to hear that acceleration has worked well for your daughter. Hopefully the age difference won’t matter as much to the other kids as she gets a little older. Just out of curiosity, is she still being challenged in the classroom even though she was accelerated several years ago?

      • She is being challenged in some areas, but not so much in others. When she first moved up, she went to being a solid “C” student, but achieved mostly “A”‘s in her last report card. She flies through the English work, but struggles a little with Maths. Somehow the basics of Maths haven’t really stuck, so we are spending time going back over times tables and other fundamentals.
        In her English, she creates the most amazing stories and persuasive texts in her head and orally, but struggles to get these to paper. Can you offer any suggestions for that?

  2. We have been lucky. Our path has not been easy or smooth, but both of our profoundly gifted sons have been double grade skipped and also subject accelerated. They have also taken college classes from a young age.

    Some teachers have been truly horrible to the kids along the way (sadly, quite a few). This has been most upsetting to my husband who is also a public school teacher. Why would any teacher make a child miserable? At the same time, the administrations of 2 of the 3 public school districts the kids attended have been amazing (if the first one had been supportive, there would not have been others). The current district administration is great and really cares about gifted kids. Our 15 year old will graduate this year as he turns 16 and head off to the college of his choice. I cannot imagine him with two more years of high school. He fits in better on a college campus both academically and socially.

    • It is wonderful that you have been able to find supportive administrations, though it is disturbing that teachers would treat your kids so poorly. It sounds like there is a need for better teacher training and understanding. Thanks for sharing your experience! We’re glad to hear that acceleration met your kids’ needs and that they were able to accelerate. Good luck to your son as he enters college!

  3. Could you post a source for the 2001 study? I’m building a case in Vermont for acceleration (currently rarely allowed throughout the state) or some other intervention for gifted children. (Ref: http://www.change.org/petitions/provide-adequate-public-education-options-for-our-gifted-children)

  4. I guess I’m the other side of this one… 🙂

    We chose not to accelerate our son because of extreme asynchronous development. Fortunately, I was able to place him in an IB school which was more than happy to let him go at his own pace and do extra activities. This, along with a daily pull out GT program, worked well for him during the elementary years. It allowed him to explore his topics with depth and gave him the opportunity to share what he learned.

    Now that he is in middle school, we are going to accelerate him. It was a rough start for him at the beginning of the year (broken arm, surgery, not a good time to start advanced academics), but we made our decision a few weeks ago to homeschool him next year with the plan of taking AP exams and starting college at 16. He’s ready for this. I’m not sure I would have said that before.

    When it comes to acceleration, I don’t think there is any one solution. Merely advancing my son a grade level or two would not have been the answer, and it still isn’t. But that was the only option that the district gave us. I think that each parent needs to make this decision based on what is sitting across the table from them, and then re-evaluate as necessary. If I had accelerated my son before now, he would have been challenged, but would he have been successful?

    Sorry so long, and I could go on and on here. 🙂 I’m just a big proponent of making sure that the gifts of these children are cultivated with care. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and burning out too soon is just as tragic as letting them languish.

    • You bring up an excellent point. Every child is different, and especially in the case of asynchronous development, twice-exceptionalities, or gifts in single subject areas, grade-skipping at an early age might not be the right choice for your child. It is crucial that you consider the child and what his or her needs are in every individual case to see if acceleration is the right option. It sounds like you were able to find a school that would cater the learning experience to what he needed, which is ultimately all anyone could hope for. Glad to see that you have been able to find him learning environments that work! And don’t worry about a long comment – we love the discussion and are happy to hear your experiences! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

      • My 7 year old son is in the first grade. He has been different from the time he started preschool. The teachers have always been so ugly to him (and us).

        They say he has asynchronous development. His [written and reading] English is of a grade 1 level [Vocabulary is of grade 3 or 4] and emotionally he is very sensitive and intense which effects him in the school environment and thus they will not let him skip a grade. The problem we face is being “gifted” is not recognised in our country (SOUTH AFRICA) and we have a very hard road ahead of us. My son has about grade 3 maths, grade 4 geography and high school history.

        My son HATES school and lies and manipulates us to try and stay at home so that he can school with me and learn what he wants to learn. His teacher says that he has to go on Ritalin and refuses to see the giftedness. He hates school because he is bored and the teacher keeps saying he is not bored and even called him a liar. He is confirmed to not have ADHD etc and confirmed as gifted and bored in class.

        How do I deal with this uneven development so that he can move to grade 3 next year. I am prepared to work hard to cover the English needed to pass grade 1 and 2.

        I am new to this. I only found out yesterday that my son is gifted. I was a gifted kids also but in my day there was no such thing. I ended up leaving school in grade 8 because of it. Thank goodness my hunger for knowledge always grew and I was able to prove to our University that I had the ability to enter a degree and I started University at 22 with a grade 8 education yet had so much knowledge. I dont want my son to end up like me and they long and hard journey I had to take to get my degree.

        He loves learning however his teacher is killing his mind and his heart. I am scared, I am confused and I just dont know what to do and where to go. I have taken him for his assessment and the educational physiologist confirmed that he is gifted.

  5. I have experience of both acceleration that worked and a child for whom it would be problematic. My daughter who is exceptionally gifted, skipped Yr 4 and went straight into a Yr 5 class for academically achieving students from Yr 3. She had a few gaps (long multiplication stands out) but quickly caught up and made lovely friends and excelled at maths.

    My son is also exceptionally gifted, but has learning difficulties which make the high demands of an acceleration not an appealing prospect. He is also very intense emotionally.

    When accelerating GLD students, consideration needs to be made to accelerate their areas of strength, but supporting their areas of deficit. Unfortunately, our experience is that schools are very much focussed on remedying deficits, without moving forward cognitively – the result is a very sad, frustrated boy.

    We homeschool now, because I can cope with asynchrony, GLD and grade-skipping (often 4-5 years ahead in their areas of strength) and I don’t have to spend my time and energy negotiating for all this to happen.

  6. My younger one skipped much later than his brother. While L skipped 3rd and 4th, R skipped 7th and 8th (along with his early entry to K). R is very clearly asynchronous with some LD issues. The district was well-aware of this and made the skips to allow him to continue to take advanced classes while also getting extra support in his areas of weakness and LD. His first year at the high school, he was 11 and he was given a mentor for last period of the day. The teacher (AP English teacher) helped him to stay on track with assignments and organization. He made sure R made the bus daily and went home with his lunch box and backpack (that was a constant issue in his lower grades, so he had not ridden the bus until that year).

    Also, we have him on a 5 year plan at the high school. He has access to AP classes, avoided the unpleasantness of our middle school, and will be 16 when he graduates. Still, each year with each kid, we re-evaluate to make sure the path is still the right one. We alter path as needed. If he suddenly said he was ready to graduate in 4 years, he would have some work to do making up the few required classes he has missed. It would be an option. If he decided to take a year off, that would be fine, too. It has been offered. He loves the extra-curriculars at the high school too much to miss them for a year.

    My rule of thumb has always been – Is the child happy? Is the child challenged. Both are important.

  7. When my daughter was in first grade (in a 1st/2nd combo), the teacher said she should skip not know the school/district policy against it. Still, the school had her tested. The results shows that she could have skipped into 3rd grade. The principal would have none of it and insisted that there was no point putting her into 2nd since she would still be ahead. Therefore, her teachers were just supposed to meet her needs while she was kept in a room with kids her chronological age, but not her intellectual, psychological, or emotional age. It took until the end of 3rd for me to find a place for her and the following year she went somewhere else as a 5th grader. She could have skipped another grade as well, but she was so tiny and I worried about pushing her or if things caught up with her later.
    Last year, a junior, all of her friends were seniors and I realized that it would have been fine if she’d skipped two grades. Still, with college less than 3 months away, I feel cheated out of year and figure maybe I was being selfish holding her back where I would have been cheated of her company two years (she’d have gone off to college at 16 instead of 17).

  8. Jodie Hollingum

    Hi
    My daughter is 8 years old and due to start yr 4.
    Her school wants accelerate her into year 5, missing year 4.
    My ex husband wants her to begin year 4 and maybe do it in the middle of the year or later on down the track.,

    As I think it would be best of the beginning of the year.

    Any advice on this??

    • Jodie, it is tough to tell because it all depends on why acceleration is recommended and why your ex-husband feels it should wait. That said, acceleration in some form is often the best answer, and if the school is on board with accelerating your daughter, that is often a sign that she is *really* not being served currently and that acceleration is the best option. If his concern is social or emotional, it is important to note that most accelerated students do not have trouble on this front. It could actually be more challenging to accelerate her mid-year. Hopefully this helps. Thank you for stopping by!

  9. Lots of great info in these posts. Thank you to everyone for sharing. I was wondering if someone can point me in the right direction as we are planning to move our son from K into 1st grade mid year with only 10 weeks of school remaining. He is exceptionally gifted and we are exploring many options, including home schooling starting next year. As my wife works at his current school, we would like to make the school work if it can. Is there a good book or maybe some articles you can suggest that give specific tools on how to make the transition? The admin wants to try half days in 1st grade, then 2nd half back with current class…almost like a trial period. I feel like we should be more prescriptive with a quick transition into new class, but honestly at a total loss and looking for examples that have worked in the past.

    Thanks!

  10. Well my daughter is 12 years old. When she was 4 they said she should just go to grade school but me and my husband didn’t think it was ‘Ok’ for her to be with students older than her. But now we think she is ready, with starting to be interested with Quantum Physics and Chemistry. But I don’t know if she will agree.

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