Back to School: STEM and Acceleration

This post was originally posted in May, but with the beginning of the school year, we thought it might be helpful to those struggling with placement decisions, particularly in STEM subjects.

Some of the most powerful evidence we have concerning the success of acceleration comes from research done in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas.  For example, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth has conducted many research studies since the 1970’s on exceptionally math talented students who have moved ahead in school at a faster rate than is typical. Other researchers, such as those working with early entrance to college programs and STEM schools, have documented the high level of achievement of students taking advantage of accelerative opportunities.

The picture is positive and clear; students who skip a grade, move ahead in a particular subject, take challenging courses including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate program courses, or take advantage of other accelerative opportunities do very well both short- and long-term. As a group, these students are more likely to continue studying advanced math and science throughout their schooling, pursue careers in STEM, and to achieve at higher levels in college and beyond.

Katie McClarty has added to the longitudinal evidence on acceleration with her studies of the impact of acceleration on careers. She examined the careers of people who were in their 40’s.  Those individuals who had been accelerated in school years earlier were more successful, had higher productivity rates, more prestigious occupations, and earned more and increased earnings faster when compared to older students who entered the workforce at the same time (http://researchnetwork.pearson.com/college-career-success/gifted-talented).

Lori Ihrig and Kate Degner contributed to the discussion on acceleration and STEM education with their chapter in the new report, A Nation Empowered (now available as a free download at www.nationempowered.org).  They discuss four common excuses for not accelerating students in STEM subjects and provide parents and educators with evidence to refute those excuses. The bottom line? “Accelerative options are not rushing, they are a means of matching the curriculum to the needs of the student, and they should be thoughtfully selected from the menu of available options…. If developing STEM leadership by mentally engaging and challenging top students in STEM is also an educational goal, then acceleration is critical.” (Ihrig & Degner, 2015, A Nation Empowered).

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