Subject Acceleration: A How-To List

This article expands upon some of the ideas presented in the earlier blog, Subject-Specific Gifted Services:

This is when we need to start shifting our thinking from creating one gifted program that serves the “all-around gifted student” to providing services for students with strengths in specific areas. This shift in thinking helps us to be more responsive to our students’ needs and helps ensure that they are challenged in school every day.

Subject acceleration (also called content acceleration) is useful for students who have demonstrated advanced ability in one or more academic areas. Examples include a 2nd grader moving into the 3rd grade classroom for reading, a student taking an Advanced Placement (AP) course, or grouping several advanced 6th graders for math instruction. Subject acceleration can be appropriate for a high-ability student who isn’t recommended for whole-grade acceleration, exhibits an uneven academic profile with an extreme strength area, or has already skipped a grade but needs additional challenge in one area.

Some people might be concerned that subject acceleration may cause academic harm or put students in situations that are too challenging.  Research (such as that provided in A Nation Empowered) tells us otherwise:  

  • High ability students engage in abstract thinking at a younger age than typical students.
  • Accelerated students do not have gaps in their academic backgrounds.
  • Accelerated students will not run out of courses before high school graduation. (Students never really run out of content to study, but the high school might not offer the next course that is needed. In this situation, a student might need to utilize other options, such as dual enrollment or online coursework.)
  • Accelerated students do not “burn out.” Research shows that acceleration leads to higher levels of achievement.

Others may argue that, “We already have enrichment, so why do students need content acceleration?” We agree that STEM clubs, science fairs, English festivals, and pull-out programs provide valuable enrichment. However, they do not provide a systematic progression through the curriculum.

Subject acceleration has many advantages:

  • The regular classroom teacher does not have to search for materials for the advanced student, because that student is removed during class (for example, the student moves to a different class for math).
  • It is more likely that the student will be grouped with intellectual peers.
  • The student receives credit for work completed.
  • The student is appropriately challenged and therefore remains interested in the subject (and in school).
  • Research clearly supports the use of acceleration with academically talented students.

The disadvantages of subject acceleration include:

  • Although the student is now working at a higher level, the pace may still be too slow.
  • If the student is accelerated by only one year, there may be little new content.
  • The student may not receive credit for high school courses completed before enrolling in high school due to district policies.
  • Additional planning and discussion time may be required, if subject acceleration is new in a school or to a particular group of educators.
  • Long-term planning is essential, so the student does not “run out” of coursework before graduating from high school.

Utilizing subject acceleration can be challenging, and it requires us to consider a variety of questions:

  • How are grades and credit assigned?
  • When completing the school’s regular testing, which grade-level achievement test does the student take (“age-appropriate” or new grade)?
  • What transportation is needed?
  • How do we schedule the same subject at the same time for the two grade levels? (For example, one district offers math at the same time every day across the district, so students don’t miss another subject if they are accelerated for math.)
  • What indicators of accelerated coursework are needed on the student’s transcript?
  • How is class rank determined?

Subject acceleration requires careful thought and planning. However, the time invested in thinking through some of the challenges and long-term issues presented by subject acceleration provides an important result:  students who are appropriately challenged and engaged in school.

Additional Resources

Register for APTTI and Apply for Funding Opportunities!

AP Teacher Training Institute 

Start the New Year off right by planning your summer professional development! Make sure to save the date for the 2019 AP Teacher Training Institute (APTTI). This will take place at the University of Iowa campus on June 25-28, 2019. Registration is now openWe will be offering workshops for AP Biology, AP Calculus AB, AP Chemistry, AP English Literature & Composition, AP Physics I, and AP US History.

AP Teacher Training Institute instructor demonstrating a lesson to smiling AP Biology teachers.

APTTI is a College Board-approved AP Summer Institute (APSI). AP Summer Institutes provide subject-specific training for teachers who are interested in teaching an AP course. Summer Institutes can also benefit current teachers already teaching AP courses to develop their skills, or gain familiarity with the course. Teachers who attended our previous institutes shared some of their valued experiences:

It gave me a framework for how to structure my course, wording for my syllabus for the College Board, and very valuable information to prepare my students for the AP exam.

Not only did I gain more resources to further my instruction, but I also learned many strategies for implementing these materials. I had the opportunity to learn from an instructor who was vastly knowledgeable and taught us as if we were students…so we could better understand how to teach our own students. This knowledge was immensely valuable!

I feel like this program has a direct impact on high school students…I am more confident in the material and the course/text structure, and my experience as an AP teacher has been much more successful than it would have been without an APTTI.

It was a wonderful course that prepared me to teach AP. The instructor modeled an AP class for us, so we not only left with content knowledge, but methodology knowledge as well. These methods can extend beyond just our AP classes and into our general classes as well.

Funding

We want to inform you of scholarships funded by the College Board that support teachers in attending an APSI. Applications for these scholarships are due Tuesday, February 12th, 2019. Scholarships offered by the College Board are listed below, and you can find more information about these scholarships and the application process here.

  • AP Fellows Program: For teachers at schools serving minority or low-income students
    • Scholarship Amount: $1,000 – for cost of tuition and lab fees (when applicable)
  • AP Rural Fellows Program: For teachers at rural schools
    • Scholarship Amount: $1,500 – for cost of tuition and lab fees (when applicable)

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) also offers the AP Institution Grant, a grant to support Iowa teachers in attending APTTI. (Participation in IOAPA not required.) This grant will cover $450 (more than 80%) of the $550 registration fee.  Click here to learn more and click here to access the grant application. This application is due June 1st, 2019. 

Don’t miss the chance to apply for these great scholarships, especially since deadlines for some are approaching quickly! If you’re considering attending an AP Summer Institute and/or our AP Teacher Training Institute, apply today!

Professional Learning in Gifted Education

The Spring semester is upon us at the University of Iowa, and the Belin-Blank Center offers classes that start in January, as well as throughout the semester.

woman working on computer

Two of the Center’s three-semester-hour online and asynchronous classes very soon; these are scheduled over eight weeks, so you want to get enrolled ASAP:

EDTL:4199:0001/EDTL:4199:0EXW Program Models in GiftedE Education (Programming strand)

Development and refinement of preservice and inservice educators’ understanding of academic programs; needs of gifted and talented students, including diverse and often underrepresented groups of students; rationale for and implementation of a comprehensive program model for gifted students.  (3 sh)  

     Instructor: Laurie Croft, Ph.D.

     Dates & Time: Jan 14 – March 8, 2019

PSQF:4121:0EXW   Identification of Students for Gifted Programs 

Interpretation of standardized tests and other measurement instruments used to identify academic talent and program effectively for grades K-12; ability, aptitude, achievement tests; current issues in the uses of various instruments. (3 sh)

Doctoral students should enroll in PSQF:5226:0EXW Assessment of Giftedness.

     Instructor: Susan Assouline, Ph.D.

     Dates & Time: January 22, 2019 – March 15, 2019  (you’ll need to contact us to give you special permission to enroll in this class—just email laurie-croft@uiowa.edu)

The Center also has a two-semester-hour class that fulfills the requirement for an Administrative strand class, as well as providing a much better understanding of policy, administrative, and evaluations issues in gifted education:

EPLS:4110:0EXW Administrative and Policy Issues in Gifted Ed  (this class has only three seats left)

Policy, administrative, evaluation issues in developing and maintaining gifted programs in a school setting; participants develop gifted program and policies for a school; for school executives and coordinators of gifted programs. (2 sh)

     Instructor: Randy Lange, Ph.D.

     Dates & Time: January 28 – April 26, 2018 

The Center is offering an exceptionally useful selection of one-semester-hour workshops this semester.  The FIRST of these fast-paced and focused workshops:

EDTL:4096:0WKB Topics in Teaching and Learning: Integrated Curriculum Model for Gifted Learners

The Integrated Curriculum Model (ICM) allows participants to learn more about the development of exemplary curriculum units through the study of this model, developed at the Center for Gifted Education (William & Mary).  The model is designed specifically for gifted learners and emphasizes three dimensions: advanced content, higher level processes and product development, and interdisciplinary concepts, issues, and themes.  Especially useful when paired with EDTL:4096:0WKC, Developing Gifted Curriculum for Gifted Learners, (March 12 – April 1).  (1 s.h.)

Instructor: Kimberley Chandler, Ph.D.

Dates & Time: January 22 – February 11, 2019

Dr. Chandler worked closely with Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska in the development of the Integrated Curriculum Model (ICM), as well as the development of specific units that use the ICM (which has a strong research base pointing to its effectiveness with gifted learners).

Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska

You can find the list of all current semester coursework by visiting belinblank.org/educators (follow the link to Schedule).  The Belin-Blank Center is dedicated to supporting your professional learning interests!

You can find more about Registering as a Distance Learner by visiting belinblank.org/educators/reg.

If you have questions about getting enrolled in one or more of these informative classes, please contact educators@belinblank.org.

Message from the Director: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

The closing days of the last months of the calendar, along with the waning daylight hours of each day, correspond to the concluding efforts of the fall semester and offer a chance for reflection.  Our efforts led to amazing results in programs and services in 2018.

Belin-Blank Center Staff
Belin-Blank Center Staff

Our annual board meeting and 30th anniversary celebration concluded in October and my message in the previous issue offered an abridged review. 

Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board
Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board

A few weeks after the wonderful 30th anniversary celebration, nearly all of the Belin-Blank Center staff and faculty, along with several graduate students, attended the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Conference in Minneapolis. Over a two and ½-day period, there were 15 different presentations by Center staff and faculty.  Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon delivered a keynote presentation on twice-exceptionality to a standing-room-only audience of more than 500!  Several other presentations also were standing-room-only, with many conference attendees gathered outside the filled rooms, which seated more than 100 people.  Grounded in the excellence of the Center’s research, service, and programs, we covered professional development of teachers and counselors; twice-exceptionality, including assistive technology for twice-exceptionality, and neuroscience of twice-exceptionality; arts and writing; STEM Excellence; and academic acceleration.  Every single attendee received a hot-off-the-press copy of the new publication, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies:  Whole Grade, Early Entrance, & Single Subject, written by Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, Wendy Behrens, and Susan Assouline, in collaboration with NAGC and CEC-TAG.

Susan Assouline, Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik & Wendy Behrens at NAGC
Susan Assouline, Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik & Wendy Behrens at NAGC

The fall 2018 conference season ended with multiple presentations at the Tennessee State Conference (Dr. Foley-Nicpon) and the Indiana State Conference (Drs. Croft and Assouline).  It is safe to say that between the national and state conferences, including the Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) conference, Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff affected thousands of educators, which harkens back to our mission of empowering the worldwide gifted community.

What is in store for next year? Our programs, services, and research will continue to grow and evolve while we strive to empower the worldwide gifted community.  We will sharpen our focus on the broad and very serious issue of lack of diversity in gifted programs by providing greater emphasis on serving students who are not traditionally identified for programming, whether that be due to cultural, ethnic, economic, gender, or neurodiversity. Stay tuned for updates.

On behalf of my colleagues at the Center, I wish you a good holiday, a happy end to 2018, and a great start to 2019. May it be bright!

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies

The new publication, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject is now available online. This publication, a project of the Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children and also endorsed by The Association for the Gifted, is an update of the Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy, which was published in 2009.

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies uses current research and practical considerations of school-based issues to guide decision-making. It includes recommended elements of whole-grade acceleration policies, early entrance to kindergarten or first grade policies, and subject-acceleration policies. Each section includes a checklist of items to consider while developing those specific policies. The information provided is supported by recent research.  Lists of resources are also included.  Download your copy of the publication from the Acceleration Institute website.

Additionally, if your school, district, or state has an acceleration policy that you would like to share with others (via the Acceleration Institute website), be sure to share your acceleration policy here. Thank you!

Subject-Specific Gifted Services?

An individual recently posted on the Belin-Blank Center teachers’ listserv:

“I’m wondering if anyone identifies and provides services based on specific subjects instead of just overall scores? I am hoping to figure out how to best serve our students.”

If you’re a teacher, you can probably think of several examples. Perhaps “Luisa” shows high potential in math but not in language arts (e.g., Iowa Assessments scores in the 99th percentile in math, but in the 70th-85th percentiles in reading and vocabulary).  In contrast, perhaps “Elizabeth” demonstrates strengths in language arts (reading at the 98th percentile, vocabulary 95th percentile), but not in math (math total 65th percentile).

These two students demonstrate strengths compared to other students in their respective grade levels and would likely benefit from some additional challenges during the school day. When the gifted program in a school is developed for the “all-around” gifted student, however, students like Luisa and Elizabeth might be overlooked and might not receive any differentiated services. Maybe these students don’t need all of the services provided by a traditional gifted program, but they would certainly benefit from being challenged in their strength areas.

This is when we need to start shifting our thinking from creating one gifted program that serves the “all-around gifted student” to providing services for students with strengths in specific areas. This shift in thinking helps us to be more responsive to our students’ needs and helps ensure that they are challenged in school every day.

How do we go about this? You might start by thinking of gifted education as a continuum of services or a smorgasbord of opportunities available to your students. These services might include pull-out classes in specific subjects (reading groups or math groups, for example), subject acceleration, ability grouping for part of the day, honors classes, etc. Other services that may offer appropriate challenges might include participation in contests or competitions as well as doing independent study projects.

Thinking about gifted education in this way helps us to shift our focus from “Who are the gifted students in our school?” to “Which students demonstrate talent in specific areas and how might we help develop those talents?”  It’s all about trying to find the best ways to serve our students.

If you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy reading Beyond Gifted Education: Designing and Implementing Advanced Academic Programs by Peters, Matthews, McBee, &McCoach (2014, published by Prufrock Press).

IOAPA for Middle School: It’s Time to Prepare for Above-Level Testing!

We are nearing the end of 2018! Although there are many fun and stressful end-of-year activities and holidays approaching, we encourage you to think about planning for 2019 Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) coursework. The best way to do so for middle school students is to start with above-level testing. Above-level tests can provide essential information for determining whether a student is ready for additional challenge. If you have students in your classroom who have mastered the curriculum, or you are unsure of how to keep some students challenged and engaged, you may want to consider above-level testing.

For instance, IOAPA is partnered with the Belin-Blank Exceptional Students Talent Search (BESTS), our above-level testing program. This partnership helps connect students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities. Check out this blog post for instructions on getting started with above-level testing, or this one for recommendations on using scores to inform eligibility for advanced coursework.

PRSI Classroom 2018-2

As always, contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!