Acceleration Options

Why provide a different learning experience for gifted children?

As children veer from the norm in either direction, their educational needs become increasingly more differentiated. A child three standard deviations below the norm (55 IQ) could not profit from placement in a cooperative learning group in the heterogeneous classroom; neither does a child three standard deviations above the norm (145 IQ) Silverman (1990, p 6)

The most common options in Australia are:

Grade Based Acceleration

The most common options in Australia are:

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Early entry to school

Description: The practice of allowing a child to enter school at an earlier age than that mandated by education authorities

Purpose: Allows a child in four year old kindergarten to move to Prep during the year, or, a child who has just missed the age requirements of four year old kindergarten to complete the year in three-year-old kinder and enter Prep the next year.

Most appropriate for: Moderately to highly gifted children scoring >130 on an individual intelligence test such as the Wechsler or Stanford-Binet V. Such children want to start school early; may already be reading or calculating, and, have already exhausted everything the kinder or pre-school can offer them.

Key Elements of the Research: Researchers have found that as a group, students who enter school early show no evidence of being more at risk for adjustment difficulties than students who enter at the ‘usual’ age.

Gifted children who are allowed early entrance display academic gains on average six months ahead in their achievement as compared to their age-peers. In addition, both the socialization and self-esteem of the children improve slightly.

Teachers and Principals may have limited knowledge of the literature on early entry of intellectually gifted children: academically such children are more than ready but may need administrative support to cope with the length of the school day and the routines expected, just as do many entrants of usual starting age.

The receiving teacher of an early entrant must have positive attitudes towards early admission and be willing to assist the young child to adjust to their new situation.

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Subject Based Acceleration

This section considers a number of ways in which a school can structure an individual program for a gifted child. The options considered here all involve exposing the student to advanced content and skills. Subject Based Acceleration can be defined as “any option that allows a gifted student to gain exposure to advanced content and skills beyond the average curriculum standards that are expected for a certain age or grade level”(Rogers, 2002, p 109)

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Curriculum Compacting

Description: The curriculum of a specific subject area is assessed for what the child already knows (assessment for learning or pre-testing) and the areas already mastered are replaced by curricula that are more appropriate to the child’s learning needs 

Purpose: Students experience less repetition of material they already know. Curriculum compacting is different from subject acceleration in that the student’s actual levels are assessed through pre-testing and then this determines what will be learned next.

Most appropriate for: A child who can demonstrate a pre-determined high level of mastery of knowledge in the subject being tested, perhaps achieving on pre-test 80 – 85% against the measured outcomes. Curriculum compacting is appropriate for students who are confident of their knowledge in the subject area; who are motivated to learn, and, have a high level of interest in the subject area being compacted.

Key Elements of the Research: Large research studies have shown that up to 80% of the curriculum at grade level could be eliminated for extremely bright students and that for the top 10–15% of students up to 40-50% of the regular humanities and maths curriculum could be eliminated without negative effects to measures of student achievement.

Gifted students whose curriculum was compacted scored significantly higher than those gifted students whose curriculum was not compacted. Repetition and drill lead to forgetting and mis-learning in gifted students.

Research has shown that when teachers were taught how to compact, not only were benefits to students shown but “[curriculum compacting] saved time for teachers…allowed them the freedom to extend their curriculum… and the enrichment activities sparked interest and increased student learning” (Stamp, 2004, p 40)

The academic effect of curriculum compacting is very positive when replacement activities are appropriately presented. Students gain an additional four-fifths of a year’s curriculum for every year they participate in curriculum compacting.

Steps to Compacting (Reis & Renzulli, 1992; Renzulli & Reis, 1998):

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Single-subject acceleration 

Description: In a subject where the student has demonstrated mastery the student is able to access a higher level of the curriculum in that particular subject area

Purpose: To allow a student who has clear advanced knowledge and skills to access a curriculum at least one year in advance of the grade-for-age level. The student might physically go to a higher class (if block or vertical timetabling is in place in the school); or, the student may work on the advanced material in their current classroom. The instance of a primary student who may go to a nearby high school for some instruction, or, a high school student who may attend university is considered in the next section under Concurrent enrolment.

Most appropriate for: A student who has above average ability, who demonstrates an intense interest in a particular subject area, and, who is capable of working in an independent and self-directed way. The student, ideally, should be achieving 2+ grade levels beyond the current grade in the specific area.

Specific Issue: In the case of Primary school children, care should be taken to ensure that the student is capable of self-directed study of the higher level material as few schools operate on block timetabling. This means that the student will largely be using self-contained materials from the advanced grade while being supervised by their own lower-grade teacher.

Key Elements of the Research: It is quite common in Victoria for Year 10 students to undertake VCE studies one year ahead of their current year level. There has been a steady growth in the number of schools that allow their high potential Year 10 students to undertake one, sometimes, two Unit 1 and 2 VCE subjects.

The international research suggests academic achievement gains of about three-fifths of a year’s additional educational growth for each year that the students were engaged in subject acceleration.

Where a child has specific talents in a subject area, such as Mathematics or languages, single subject acceleration may be beneficial to the general academic attainment of the student.

Although limited research has been undertaken in the area, the anxiety levels of students who had been subject-accelerated declined, so too did academic self-esteem slightly.

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Concurrent Enrolment 

Description: A gifted or high potential student enrols at two learning institutions in the same year and attends classes (or lectures and tutorials) in physically different locations. The majority of the student’s academic subjects are taught at an institution and perhaps one or two subjects are taught in second location.

Purpose: As with Single Subject Acceleration, the purpose of Concurrent enrolment is to allow a student who has clearly advanced knowledge and skills to access a curriculum at least one year in advance of the grade-for-age level. A primary student may go to a nearby high school for some instruction, or, a high school student may attend university for one (or two) subjects. 

Most appropriate for: As travelling is often involved the student should be independent and given parent permission to travel alone or have access to supervised travel arrangements. The student must be motivated and self directed in their learning. As was the case with Single Subject Acceleration the student should be of above average ability and performing 2+ grade levels above their current year level in the specific academic area. 

Specific Issues: The practical aspects of dual enrolment – travel arrangements, timetabling clashes.

Key Elements in the Research: This option is most widely used in Victoria in the case of VCE students who may have completed one or two unit 3 and 4 subjects prior to their final year of secondary schooling and who then undertake VCE extension studies.

Programs are offered through The University of Melbourne, Monash University, La Trobe University, Ballarat University, Deakin University, RMIT University and Victoria University of Technology (VUT). Students in remote areas can access university subjects through the Monash University Distance Education Program.

Data collected and analysed by the Melbourne University Program for High Achieving Students (MUPHAS) indicates that 80% of extension students are achieving a 90 – 95 ENTER score, and that once they enter first year they achieve consistently higher results than other first year students (DE&T, 1999, p 34).

Research suggests that the academic gains of concurrent research are small but positive. The effect of the concurrent enrolment on social skills is negligible; that is, the students socialise in much the same way in both educational environments, however, “the effect on emotional status was very positive, with the greatest gains being exhibited in overall self-esteem, behavioural conduct, and views of themselves as critical thinkers” (Rogers, 2002, p 127).

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Mentorships

Description: In a mentorship arrangement the gifted or high potential student is placed with an ‘expert’ or professional in the student’s specific area of interest. Mentors may be more general rather than academic in nature. Mentorships may also be arranged to support gifted students that may be at risk of disengaging at school.

Purpose: Where experts in a talent domain take younger students with potential in this domain under their tutelage. There are some researchers who believe that a mentoring arrangement should not be entered into until the student has exhausted the resources at the secondary school level and until the student is perhaps ‘mature’ enough to maximise the time spent with the mentor. For students at risk of disengaging a mentor provides important support to the student endeavouring to “get back on track”.

Most appropriate for: Exceptionally orprofoundly gifted students with significantly advanced knowledge in a specific field. The student’s interest area is often so specific as to be considered ‘exotic’ when compared to the regular curriculum for example, a student with extensive knowledge of genetics and genetically inherited diseases, exhausts Year 12 Biology teachers expertise and may be mentored with a researcher from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. For students who are isolated for a range of reasons and/or mat be at risk of disengaging form education.

Specific Issue: Mentors are an appropriate educational option for underrepresented gifted students: gifted students from different cultures; living in poverty; from rural areas; underachievers, and girls. 

Research: Formal Australian research into mentoring is limited although anecdotal research suggests this is a highly satisfactory option for the moderately to highly gifted student.

Consistently, studies of mentoring gifted minority and disadvantaged gifted students have found that t he influence of a significant adult on a young person can be profound. In supporting Australian Indigenous students to complete high school and aspire to tertiary studies, t he mentoring relationship is considered as “one of the most significant factors which contribute to Aboriginal academic success” (Forbes-Harper, 1996 p 5).

Research completed confirms that the academic effects of mentoring are very large, with approximately a one half year gain in the specific subject area, and academic, social and emotional gains were noted.

Mentor Guidelines (Word - 78Kb)

Virtual Mentoring

Purpose: Where experts in a talent domain take younger students with potential in this domain under their tutelage. There are some researchers who believe that a mentoring arrangement should not be entered into until the student has exhausted the resources at the secondary school level and until the student is perhaps ‘mature’ enough to maximise the time spent with the mentor. For students at risk of disengaging a mentor provides important support to the student endeavouring to “get back on track”.

Most appropriate for: Exceptionally orprofoundly gifted students with significantly advanced knowledge in a specific field. The student’s interest area is often so specific as to be considered ‘exotic’ when compared to the regular curriculum for example, a student with extensive knowledge of genetics and genetically inherited diseases, exhausts Year 12 Biology teachers expertise and may be mentored with a researcher from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. For students who are isolated for a range of reasons and/or mat be at risk of disengaging form education.

Specific Issue: Mentors are an appropriate educational option for underrepresented gifted students: gifted students from different cultures; living in poverty; from rural areas; underachievers, and girls. 

Research: Formal Australian research into mentoring is limited although anecdotal research suggests this is a highly satisfactory option for the moderately to highly gifted student.

Consistently, studies of mentoring gifted minority and disadvantaged gifted students have found that t he influence of a significant adult on a young person can be profound. In supporting Australian Indigenous students to complete high school and aspire to tertiary studies, t he mentoring relationship is considered as “one of the most significant factors which contribute to Aboriginal academic success” (Forbes-Harper, 1996 p 5).

Research completed confirms that the academic effects of mentoring are very large, with approximately a one half year gain in the specific subject area, and academic, social and emotional gains were noted.

Virtual Mentoring Guidelines (Word - 48Kb)

Virtual Mentoring

Grade Based Acceleration

Grade Based Acceleration - considers a number of ways in which a school can structure an individual program for a gifted child. The options considered here all involve shortening the time the student spends in school. Some options, such as Grade Telescoping, are suitable for groups of students.

For some students both Subject Based Acceleration and Grade Based Acceleration may be used to individualise a program of learning for a gifted student. 

Grade Based Acceleration can be defined as “any option that shortens the number of years a child spends in mastering the K – 12 curriculum” (Rogers, 2002, p 166)

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Grade Skipping 

Description: A student is promoted into a higher grade resulting in the student not completing a twelve months placement in an intervening grade eg at the conclusion of Grade Three a student is promoted into Grade Five the following year.

Grade Skipping can refer to a single year advancement; multiple single year advancements over the period of the child’s schooling, or, radical grade skipping (or radical acceleration as it is sometimes called) where more than one year is advanced in a single skip, when for example, a student who has just completed Grade Three enters Grade Six the next year. 

Purpose: Grade skipping or grade advancement achieves two main purposes:the grade advancement can expose the student to a more appropriate level of curriculum given the child’s advanced academic abilities, and, secondly, the student is likely to be placed with students closer (although perhaps not close) to his/her interests. 

Most appropriate for: Moderate to profoundly gifted students (>130) on an individual IQ assessment; students with a wide range rather than narrow range of interests or abilities, and, students who are performing at, or capable of performing at, 2+ years beyond the current grade level on an off-level achievement test. Students should also be self-directed, independent learners and reasonably socially mature.

It is also considered that there are ‘natural transition’ points where grade skipping is likely to be less disruptive: the beginning of a new academic year; transition to a new school, or, transition to a new campus of the same school.

Key Elements in the Research: Research confirms there is no empirical basis for the belief that grade advancement results in either social-emotional maladjustment or gaps in learning. Over some six decades the research is overwhelmingly consistent: academic gains and social and emotional benefits follow from this form of acceleration with gifted children.

In both objective measures (educational performance) and subjective measures (student and parent satisfaction) grade advancement results in far more positive consequences than negative consequences.

More than one additional year’s achievement was gained as a result of the grade skip and as well, there was a strong improvement in social adjustment and a small gain in self-esteem.

Acceleration in the form of grade skipping often helps the gifted student establish interests and build a strong foundation for future learning rather than ‘burning’ out students.

Negative psychosocial effects of acceleration may be unfounded as accelerated students appear to be equal to non-accelerated students in the psychosocial areas that were investigated.

When is Grade-Skipping not a good idea?

Several factors could be considered as critical to the success of the grade skip. Grade skipping should not be considered if:

(adapted from Assouline, Colangelo, Lupkowski-Shoplik, Lipscomb & Forstadt , 1998) 

What should be considered prior to Grade Advancement?

A decision to grade skip a student must be considered with great care. Several researchers suggest educators follow of strict process before considering a grade skip.

The Iowa Acceleration Scale has been developed to support teachers and parents in deciding on whether full year acceleration is the right option for the specific student.

Acceleration is one way to meet the needs of gifted and high potential children. Firstly, it is inexpensive for the school to implement as the receiving class is already there waiting to be educated. Secondly, acceleration requires no professional development or specialized skills in the receiving teacher – the teacher already has the skills needed to meet the whole grade’s learning needs as well as that of the accelerant. The receiving teacher should however feel positive about the move and be provided with the opportunity for professional learning as the student may need further extension before the year is completed. It is preferable that a professional with expertise in the area of gifted children be involved in the acceleration decision. Finally, acceleration can be used in almost all educational settings.

Research clearly demonstrates that rather than grade advancement being harmful and resulting in socio-emotional maladjustment the contrary is true. As Feldhusen, Proctor and Black (2002) note, perhaps we should “be equally concerned about the social-emotional dangers of holding gifted students back in the lockstep of graded instruction” (p 169).

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Grade Telescoping

Description: A child or group of children is allowed to complete several years of the school’s curriculum in less time. For example Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 are completed in three, rather than four years’ duration.

Purpose: To meet the needs of one or a number of gifted and high potential children, the curriculum in each year is closely examined, repetition is eliminated and the pace of instruction is considerably increased. Material is not necessarily ‘skipped’ but students move more speedily through all material.

Most appropriate for: Considering the work which must be undertaken to ‘telescope’ the curriculum and considering the benefits of students working in a supportive group, telescoping can be considered an ideal option for a group or class of high potential children to work through the curriculum together. The Select Entry Accelerated Learning (SEAL) program in some Victorian secondary schools is an example of this.

Research: During 2004, the Victorian Department of Education and Training commissioned an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Select Entry Accelerated Learning (SEAL) program. This comprised a review of the literature on gifted education and a survey of existing Victorian SEAL programs. This research has informed the current direction in the education of students of high intellectual potential. The number of schools offering the SEAL program is being expanded by up to 10 to ensure equitable access to students of high intellectual potential across Victoria and to provide another means of supporting individual students and their different learning needs.’

In all international studies students in the accelerated classes outperformed students in the non-accelerated classes, who were equivalent in age and intelligence. Typically this equated to about one year on a grade equivalent scale.

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Early Entry into Tertiary Education

Description: A student enters after Year 10 or Year 11 (in the American school system) without formally graduating from High School. As an ENTER score is required for entry into a University in Australia, the Victorian equivalent of this Early College entry, would be a student who completes VCE after radical acceleration (using a variety of options, perhaps), and who enters University significantly younger than the usual 18 years of age.

Purpose: As students in Victoria, specifically, need an ENTER score for entry in University, the option of early entry in University allows students who have been accelerated through the schooling to enter University having completed their VCE at an earlier age than usual. Students complete the required number of Unit 3 and 4 subjects but not at age 17 or 18.

Once in College or University the student completes the regular program required, working with students who are older than they are. Usually, no university curriculum enrichment would take place.

In Australia, some highly exceptional students have ‘fast-tracked’ their University degrees by completing summer and winter (Vacation) schools and, more rarely, through Recognition of Prior Learning; thereby completing their undergraduate degree in less than the usual three or four years.

Most appropriate for: Highly gifted students (>150) on an individual IQ assessment; socially mature; academically oriented with strong interests in at least one academic area.

Specific Issues: This section is included to give Victorian educators some sense of the research findings of outcomes for students who enter a University environment before achieving the ‘usual’ entry age of 18 years. As was noted in Grade Advancement and Grade Telescoping students may progress through Primary or Secondary school and may arrive at their VCE perhaps as young as 14 or 15 years of age.

Each University has an Admission Policy which will usually specify age requirements. Some universities may have an Early Admission’s Policy and these may be published on the University’s website. At Monash University, as an example, a student must be 17 years of age for entry to an undergraduate degree but the student may, with the Dean’s permission, be 16 years of age. Students who are younger than this will need to seek the permission of the Dean of the desired faculty and the Dean may need to liaise with, and seek the approval of, the Vice Chancellor of the University. It may be likely that the Minister for Education will need to be petitioned to approve entry.

Key Elements in the Research:

Students who enter University early are a highly selective group and research is often limited to single case studies so generalisations may be difficult.

For a very select few, entering University at a young age may be the first opportunity the highly gifted student has had to experience learning challenges and is offered the opportunity to mix with others who share similar interests. Whilst clearly the option is not for every gifted child it appears there are positive academic, social and perhaps emotional gains for the early entrant when entering university.

A synthesis of the research by Olszewski-Kubilius (2002) shows:

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