The traditional school acceleration schedule for students from first through 12th grades was originally crafted to allow students from around 6 years old to 18 years old to have organized instruction while demonstrating predictable academic progress.
Nearly 50 years ago, kindergarten formally became an integral component of this educational process in most states. While this 13-step model allows orderly advancement for most students, allowing for a graduation around age 18, it does not fit all. In particular, it has been found to be at odds with the students recognized as gifted or talented in select disciplines. For these students, parents and educators alike must often create an academic acceleration plan that allows the students to advance at their own pace versus the one utilized for a traditional student.
Creating an alternative pace requires serious consideration on several fronts. In addition to ensuring that the child is ready for the advanced classwork, there are also social and emotional maturity considerations if the instruction is delivered in a traditional face-to-face mode.
There are also considerations if the child shows exceptional abilities in select disciplines, but not all areas. Stakeholders must also ensure the newly crafted plan allows for students who may present as twice exceptional, meaning they have exceptional abilities paired with select challenges such as autism, which may require a reimagining of the traditional classroom dynamic.
While any adjustment requires adaptation on the part of the child, the educators, and the parents, the good news out of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College is that “academic acceleration has no negative long-term effects on the psychological well-being of gifted youth.” According to the study, authored by Bonnie Ertelt and published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, although there have been a variety of petite studies encouraging academic acceleration as a strategy to meet the needs of gifted youth, those were often met with hesitance by parents and educators, who tended to focus on the “happy specially crafted, little pond” theory, which promotes same-aged peers and suggests negative effects like anger and even anxiety when gifted students are matched with their cognitive not their chronological peers.
However, this “Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth” found no negative effects to gifted students who experienced academic advancement such as grade skipping, early graduation, or a specially-crafted combination designed to support the student’s unique abilities. This study detailed how the greater fear should be examined if the child is not advanced and is forced to remain in classes he or she has already mastered. The recommendation is that educators ask not how old the child presents, but whether he or she has the requisite knowledge to understand and perform the tasks required for the advanced classes. According to Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair, David Lubinski, “this is the first study to examine the relationship of acceleration with psychological well-being over an extensive time frame, and we found no evidence for long-term concerns.”
While there is no ideal academic progress plan for gifted students, as each child offers a unique set of abilities, it is encouraging to see that the latest, most comprehensive study supports advancing students based on their cognitive abilities not their chronological age.