Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska gave a riveting talk at the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute (B-BALI) earlier this summer on “The Research and Practice of Acceleration for Gifted Students: Toward Policy Development.” She explained that acceleration policy is needed:
- To ensure that it happens consistently across districts, individual students, and time;
- To provide guidance for educational decisions about acceleration options; and
- To ensure that it is presented as one of the basic provisions for gifted students at all stages of development.
The research on academic acceleration is the strongest research and the best practice we have in gifted education. Nothing else comes close. Both short-term and longitudinal studies consistently demonstrate the power of acceleration for gifted students; in one study of students who had accelerated 38 years prior, researchers found accelerated students earned terminal degrees (e.g., Ph.D., J.D., or M.D.) at a rate substantially higher than in the general population (37-43% in the accelerated group compared to only 1% in the general population), performed at a high level in their careers, demonstrated a higher rate of patents and publications, earned higher salaries, etc.
Acceleration can be used as the catalyst for talent development in schools. Schools should provide:
- Advanced opportunities as early as possible in identified areas of aptitude;
- Sustained practice of the progressive development of skills under the guidance of a coach, tutor, or mentor;
- Competitions in the area of strength, so students can see what excellence looks like; and
- Collaboration on expert teams for performance.
The above recommendations are consistent with those provided by the National Science Foundation (2010), which calls for more use of inquiry through project-based learning, more research preparation, and more emphasis on career development.
If we accelerate gifted students, what does that look like at each stage? Dr. VanTassel-Baska recommends using acceleration as the first intervention, then providing enrichment and other services. By using acceleration as the first intervention, we are starting with the evidence-based provision. Higher levels of functioning demand that we raise the level of curricular challenge; this ensures a good match with the student’s readiness for learning. In short, gifted students who are ready for more advanced curriculum need acceleration.
Acceleration is flexible. It can be provided in different ways, from content acceleration to grade skipping (20 different types of acceleration are listed in A Nation Empowered). Acceleration can be provided at different times during a student’s development, it can be provided for a group or individually, and the types of acceleration can be used alone or in combination.
Content acceleration options at all stages of development should be a core for acceleration policy. Policymakers and practitioners should consider utilizing existing practices. For example, if an option for testing out of high school courses is available for students who have difficulties, this option should be made available for gifted students as well.
Both research and effective practice demonstrate the power of acceleration with high-ability learners. Acceleration is the first and most important differentiation tool for instruction for gifted students and needs to be acknowledged as such. Our gifted programs would be far more effective if strong acceleration policies were enacted.
We thank Dr. VanTassel-Baska for presenting this important talk.
Additional notes from the Belin-Blank Center
- See the 2-volume book, A Nation Empowered (nationempowered.org), which provides the latest information on research and practice in acceleration.
- The Acceleration Institute (accelerationinstitute.org) contains many resources for making decisions about acceleration and implementing acceleration policies.
- The Iowa Acceleration Scale is a useful tool for making decisions about a grade skip.