Acceleration

When investigating appropriate educational environments for your high ability child, it is always important to fall back on just what it means for a child to be a high ability learner. When a student is considered high ability, this doesn’t make them more or less special than any other classmate. What this does mean, however, is that high ability learners grasp and master educational concepts at a faster rate, with fewer repetitions required than their non-high ability peers. For example, a typically bright child may take six to eight repetitions of material to achieve mastery. The high ability learner, on the other hand, only needs to be exposed to content once or twice to master the same material. (In fact, studies have shown that more than two repetitions can be detrimental to a high ability child’s learning.) Enabled to learn at their own pace, high ability children have the potential to learn an additional semester’s worth of content every school year compared to their non-high ability classmates.

Because of this speed of learning, high ability children greatly benefit from having some form of acceleration incorporated into their educational plans, and the various educational options outlined on the next page can serve to address this need. Whatever methodology is employed, however, it is crucial to stress that these tools should be utilized to allow high ability children to explore more and to learn more... they should not become just more work. For example, if high ability children are given a pull-out option of small group instruction in mathematics, they could be allowed to investigate concepts and ideas not covered in the core curriculum, or to investigate the class’s subject matter in greater depth and complexity. They should not be given merely longer or more problems of the same material the rest of the class is already doing.


While subject-level acceleration fits the needs of high ability students specifically in the areas where they are advanced, parents may also want to consider grade-level accelerations (i.e., grade skipping) as well. Educators sometimes resist this intervention, citing concerns over the social well-being of children who are advanced one or more grades. But while acceleration may not be appropriate for all children, studies have overwhelmingly shown that grade-level accelerations are positive experiences for high ability children, especially when it comes to their social-emotional environments, as high ability kids frequently feel more at home among their older, intellectual peers. Alternatively, we need to realize we could be damaging high ability learners by retaining them in a particular grade just because of their chronological age. Accelerated children continue to perform at a comparably high level in their new grade, significantly outpacing high ability classmates who did not accelerate.

The most successful grade-level accelerations are ones where a team-based approach is used to develop a concrete plan for the accelerated child’s success. Resources like the Iowa Acceleration Scale Manual are available to help schools and parents decide whether it is the right step to take for their child. With active support in their new environments, high ability children can easily bridge any gaps in learning resulting from the grade skip and continue to absorb new material at their accelerated pace.