Friday, July 13, 2012

Acceleration: Parenting for High Potential

As many of 20% of all drop outs may be gifted or high ability students (Renzulli & Park 2000). This is a national tragedy. One of the major reasons these students drop out is because of boredom and lack of peer engagement, especially in middle school. June’s Parenting for High Potential tackles the concept of acceleration as a way to meet these children’s needs.

This topic is near and dear to my heart since my daughter is within this group of high ability students. The year before she entered kindergarten, our district moved from a half day to a full day kindergarten program. Although I knew there was a snowball’s chance she would be let into school early, I attended the informational meeting. When I shared my concern that her needs would not be met, I was told that our wonderful kindergarten staff would find ways to teach her. I was told she could teach the children who were not getting it. While my child is bright and I am trained as a teacher, she has not. It is not her job to teach her classmates; it is her job to learn. A year later she wowed the screening teacher who was later dismissive of my questions about meeting her needs and entered public school.

Alas, she was not learning much. She enjoyed coloring and her fine motor skills improved. Her teacher’s attempt to help was to send home extra work that would take her to the next level. It is not that I do not have the materials or ability to teach her, but I did not want her to have nothing to do in school. She was only 5. A full day of school, even if it did not involve much learning was tiring. After school she did not want to do more work. Her primary teachers each eventually acknowledged her skills and the lack of a need for her to receive the “instruction” that was going on in class, but did little about it. In third grade I finally got her in touch with the district’s enrichment specialist. A couple of months prior to the end of fourth grade I asked her if she wanted to do the fifth grade math curriculum over the summer and start sixth grade math in the fall. If she wasn’t in, the sleeping dog would lie. She said yes. You would have thought I asked for gold plated shoes. They tested her- that was a mistake on their part because instead of proving how average she was (their thought), she revealed how exceptional she was. Finally I got acceleration for her.

Unfortunately her story is not unusual. Schools do not want to accelerate, especially now that they are being graded on how well the students do. Everyone wants the gifted child on their caseload, but no one really wants to do anything different for the child. The low end students get the attention- there is money and staff there to help. The high end children test out above the test at the beginning of the year. You cannot show any progress there. My fear is that with the adoption of CCSS schools will become even less likely to accelerate. Parents will hear about how the curriculum will now challenge him and give her a chance. Every year we give them a chance, is a year that is lost to instruction. Learning curves being what they are, gifted children should widen the gap between themselves and their peers, not shrink it. A child who can learn 2 years of material for every one an average child learns should skyrocket above the rest in short order. Research has shown that some very gifted children can learn a year of material in as little as three weeks. These kids are bored and we are not meeting their potential.

The most often cited concern against acceleration is social-emotional. For some reason, we feel that kids should form friendships based on age not interest. How long does a football obsessed adult male want to talk about crocheting with his friend’s wife? Gifted children often do not form friends with their “peers” because their “peers” do not have similar interests. It is up to the educators to help develop immature social skills if they exist. Not hold them back because they might be teased. Let me tell you, being the class brain, nerd or geek is not easy. Teasing happens. We cannot let our fears prevent these children from being challenged. It is unfair to them.

Furthermore Rogers (1999) identified two reasons to support acceleration:

·    “Gifted children are significantly more likely to retain science and mathematics content accurately when taught 2-3 times faster than the “normal” class pace.
·    Gifted students are significantly more likely to forget or mislearn science and mathematics content when they must drill and review it more than 2-3 times.” (cited by Scheibel, 2012)

We need to differentiate up as well as down, but just as differentiation does not meet the needs of all learners and we have reading support and special education, we need to have options at the high end.  Acceleration is an easy and inexpensive way of meeting the needs of our bright children and keeping them learning.


Renzulli, J., & Park, S. (2000). Gifted drop outs: the who and the why. Gifted Child Quarterly, 44(4), 261-71.

Scheibel, S. (2012). Academic acceleration: is it right for my child? Parent for high potential, 1(7).

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