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Acceleration

Dr. Ann Lupkowski Shoplik
Director, C-MITES
Reprinted from C-MITES News, Fall 2000

Much has been said and written about acceleration for gifted children. It is an emotional topic, about which many people have incorrect assumptions. The large research base clearly shows that acceleration works out very well for most students who skip a grade or advance in a subject.

There are many forms of acceleration. Grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration (where a student advances in only one subject), and early entrance to kindergarten, high school, or college are the major forms of acceleration. Grade-skipping is perhaps the most "radical" form of acceleration, where a student actually skips over one or more grade levels.

What should you think about if your student is considering a grade skip? Here are a number of points for you to discuss:

  1. First, is the student ready for the advanced material? Will the pace, depth, and level of the new material be appropriate? Students who have already done well in their current grade and have demonstrated mastery of topics offered in the grade they intend to skip are good candidates for acceleration. It is also helpful if those students have already scored in the 95th percentile or above on grade-level achievement and aptitude tests and have an IQ of 130 or above.

  2. Students who are socially and emotionally mature tend to be better candidates for acceleration. This is especially an issue of concern for younger students. Five-year-olds who already have six- and seven-year old playmates are better candidates for acceleration than those who do not.

  3. Physical development is also an issue. Students who are big for their age won’t look as "different" in a group of older students. Children who are likely to be active in sports may regret skipping a grade, and families need to think carefully about the ramifications of their decision if they expect the student to be involved in sports in the future.

  4. The "receiving teacher" is an important person in this discussion. It is imperative that the person who will teach the young student is accepting of the idea. Especially if a grade-skip occurs in the middle of the school year, it is important for the teacher to prepare the other students in the class for the younger student. This teacher may also need to make accommodations for the younger student. For example, a 6-year-old in a 3rd grade classroom might be able to comprehend the material and perform well in class, but that student’s handwriting skills might be less well-developed than grademates.

  5. The time to accelerate should also be considered. It’s easier to skip a grade at the beginning of the school year than in the middle of the school year. It’s easier to skip a grade at natural transition points, such as when a student moves into a new building or to a new district. It’s easier for the student to form friendships and less likely that he or she will stand out.

  6. Grade-skipping vs. subject matter acceleration: If a student has equally well-developed skills in all academic areas, it is possible to consider a total grade skip. However, some students aren’t ready for this, and subject-matter acceleration might be the best alternative for that student. If a student accelerates in one subject, the major concerns seem to be: transportation (if the student needs to go to another building for the more advanced subject) and scheduling (will I miss any of my fourth grade classes if I take science with the fifth graders?).

  7. The long-term ramifications of this decision are important. An early entrant to kindergarten may be the last in the class to get a driver’s license, the last one to be allowed to date, etc. Also, this student will be ready for college one or more years earlier than originally anticipated. Has the family made adequate plans for financing the students’ college education a year earlier?

  8. When a student is going to skip a grade in school, one of the concerns is that the student might have "gaps" in his or her academic background. Sometimes, this concern about gaps is the reason that school personnel decide not to accelerate a student at all. We recommend that potential accelerants be given a curriculum-based assessment. These students would be tested using the curriculum that is offered in their school for the grade that they are planning to skip. The purpose of this testing is to determine what a student knows and doesn’t know. Say, for example, "Polly" is going to skip 6th grade. She takes the 6th grade math final exam and correctly answers 95% of the material. Then, she works on the material she missed before starting the 7th grade. Sometimes, filling in the "gaps" takes as little as an hour of instructional time. This insures that the student begins the new grade with the same knowledge base as the other students in the grade. Please note that, on the curriculum-based assessment, we don’t expect a student to earn a perfect score. When a student correctly answers 85% of the material or more, he or she has demonstrated mastery of the material.

  9. Generally, we recommend that students skip only one grade at a time. Students may need to skip another grade at a later date, however.

  10. Sometimes, simple acceleration isn’t the answer. For example, an exceptionally talented student who accelerates one year in mathematics may find that the material in the older grade is still presented at the same pace (too slow) as in the regular grade. That student might need a teacher/mentor to work with him individually, to insure that the material is presented at the right pace and depth for this student.

Resources concerning acceleration:

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS) by Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, and Jonathan Lipscomb. (Gifted Psychology Press, P.O. Box 5057, Scottsdale, AZ 85261. 602)954-4200.

www.giftedpsychologypress.com. This scale was developed for use by school personnel, for making decisions about grade-skipping in kindergarten through 8th grades. It guides educators through a discussion of academic factors, school factors, developmental factors, interpersonal skills, and other important factors.

The Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children, by W. T. Southern and E. D. Jones. New York: Teachers College Press. This book summarizes pertinent research on acceleration.

The www.hoagiesgifted.com website contains a great deal of information on gifted education. See especially the page on acceleration: www.hoagiesgifted.org/acceler8.htm


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