Tips for Parents: Acceleration for Students in 8th Grade and Younger (page 3)
Ann Lupkowski Shoplik, Ph.D., Director of the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary and Secondary Students at Carnegie Mellon University, conducted a seminar for parents of academically talented students who were interested in acceleration. Below are some of the points discussed during the seminar.
Acceleration for Students in 8th Grade and Younger
Where do we start with our school if we are considering a grade-skip?
The following factors are important to consider in discussing grade acceleration:
- School and academic factors (including student’s abilities and achievements, school attendance, student's motivation, attitude toward learning, etc.)
- Developmental factors (physical size, motor coordination),
- Interpersonal skills (relationships with peers and teachers, outside-of-school activities)
- Attitude and support (student's attitude toward acceleration, parents' attitude, school system attitude and support, planning for the future).
If your child is already enrolled in school, talk to the child's current teacher and ask for help with the process. The gifted coordinator or gifted teacher may be another good advocate, since he or she should know the research regarding acceleration and may have some positive experiences to share with other decision-makers. The principal, who often makes the final decision about acceleration, should be included in the discussions as well. Be well-prepared when attending meetings with school personnel. Document your requests in writing, provide relevant test results and offer detailed explanations.
If you haven’t already done so, have your child’s abilities assessed. This objective information is essential in any discussion about acceleration. It is important to have an assessment that includes ability, aptitude, and achievement testing. Curriculum-based assessment (tied to the specific curriculum offered in your school) is also extremely useful.
What are some of the signs a student is ready for acceleration?
You might start researching the possibility of acceleration for your child if you experience some of the following:
- Your child complains a lot about being bored in school.
- Your child has no homework, or all homework is completed on the bus.
- Your child has no need to study, but still gets good grades on tests.
- Your child demonstrates high standardized achievement and aptitude test scores.
- Although the teacher might provide some enrichment, you have a real sense that the lessons are not challenging enough.
- Your child prefers to spend time with older friends.
One of the challenging things about considering acceleration is if a student isn't getting top grades in the "age-appropriate" class and/or doesn't exhibit perfect behavior. Is the lack of high grades or the poor behavior due to the lack of challenge in the current grade? Will accelerating the student help the situation or make it worse? In addition, some students are so well-behaved that it’s not obvious they need more challenge. They get along well with others, do what the teacher asks, get their homework done, and earn good grades. Sometimes we neglect to consider acceleration as a possibility, even though they might benefit from the challenge.
You may find that you will need to educate some of the people involved about the research on acceleration. This is a well-researched area of gifted education, yet acceleration is not implemented very often by schools. In addition to speaking to the individuals listed above, you may need to present information to the school board and encourage them to establish a school district policy on acceleration. Resources to share with school personnel include A Nation Deceived and the Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS). A Nation Deceived summarizes the research on acceleration and is available free online. The IAS is a guide to help parents and school personnel make an objective, well-informed decision about acceleration.
Get involved in your local gifted organization. These organizations are often affiliated with the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org). If you attend local affiliate group meetings, you'll meet other families who are dealing with similar situations. They may have specific tips that will help you. In addition, working together with several other families who are in similar situations will have a more powerful impact on making changes in the school system than one lone voice requesting these changes. Remember that school system changes take a long time. Your child might not benefit directly from a newly developed program, but future families will be grateful for your efforts.
Making the transition
It is often easier if students accelerate at the beginning of the school year, so they don't stand out in the new class as accelerated students; they look like just another one of the new kids. In addition, transitions are easier if your child already knows some of the other students. It's helpful if you can arrange some 'play dates' before school starts. Some schools assign a buddy (another student) to students who have moved into the district. This might be helpful for an accelerated student as well.
Meet with the receiving teacher ahead of time. Explain any concerns you have, and keep the lines of communication open. When you are considering acceleration, no matter who is in favor of it, if the receiving teacher (the one who will actually teach your child after the grade skip) is not in favor, things may be very difficult for your child.
Some families and schools find it helpful to establish a trial period for acceleration, such as saying that they will try it for 6 weeks. Schedule a meeting to check on 'how is it going?' at that point.
The academic work should be harder now, so you might need to work with your child on study skills: how to study for a test, good organizational strategies, etc. The receiving teacher may have some good suggestions about this. Be prepared for lower grades during the initial phase of acceleration. This is fairly typical while the student is adjusting to the demands of the new grade.
The impact of acceleration on social development
Research tells us that, as a group, accelerated gifted students do just fine socially. Parents and school personnel may express concerns about dating, driving and social situations that are too mature for the student’s chronological age. Although these inconveniences are temporary, they are still issues at the time! It is most helpful if the parents make decisions about these types of situations ahead of time and prepare themselves as well as the student. Decide when you think it’s appropriate for your child to date or to go to the mall or the movies with a group of friends and stick to it. Clearly explain to your child what he or she is allowed to do and what he or she will have to wait to do.
The Diagnostic Testing->Prescriptive Instruction (DT-PI) process is very useful for students who are accelerating in school, especially if there is a concern that the student has ‘gaps’ in his or her background. The student is tested in the specific subject area to determine what he/she does and doesn't know. If there are some gaps, instruction can be based upon what he doesn't know. A lot of time is saved if we tailor instruction in this way. This process was originally developed for mathematically gifted students by Julian Stanley. It is described in detail in Assouline and Lupkowski-Shoplik (2005).
Students, schools, and summer programs have used the DT-PI process in different ways, both short-term and long-term. For example, one young student had already learned quite a bit of algebra on her own and she wanted to start the school year in Algebra II rather than in Algebra I. She was tested to see what topics in Algebra I she already knew. She demonstrated that she did know a lot of algebra, but there were still a few holes in her background. A mentor worked with her for about 2 weeks in August on the topics she had not understood completely. By the time school started, she was ready to start Algebra II with the rest of the class.>/p>
What are the alternatives to a grade skip?
For whatever reasons, if your student does not skip a grade in school, other alternatives for devising a challenging educational program should be considered. These include: subject-matter acceleration, enrichment with the regular classroom, enrichment provided by a pull-out teacher (perhaps the gifted teacher) or a mentor, completing projects, participating in competitions or clubs, or taking a class via a distance learning program.
Assouline, S. G., et al. (2003). The Iowa Acceleration Scale: Manual (2nd ed.). Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2005). Developing Math Talent. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Gross, M. U. M. (2004). A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa. www.nationdeceived.org.
Rogers, K. (2002). Re-forming gifted education: Matching the program to the child. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Reprinted with the permission of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. © 2008 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
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