What Does the Research Say About Academic Acceleration?

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At the Belin-Blank Center, we are big fans of academic acceleration. Why? Because it is a research-based best practice. Acceleration is “…one of the cornerstones of exemplary gifted education practices, with more research supporting this intervention than any other in the literature on gifted individuals” (from the National Association for Gifted Children position statement on acceleration).

Academically, acceleration provides a better match between a student’s abilities and the curriculum. Socially, acceleration places students with academic peers who are similar both in terms of their intellectual level and in terms of their interests.

What does the research say? Acceleration benefits students both in the short-term and in the long-term.

Short-Term Benefits

In terms of academics, accelerated students are more challenged and therefore more engaged in school. Research studies have demonstrated that academically talented students who enter school early do very well compared to their older classmates and, as a group, those who enter college early perform very well academically and socially. There may be a bit of an adjustment period, but accelerated students (those who skip a grade or move ahead in a particular subject) earn good grades, demonstrate they do not have gaps in their knowledge, and continue to perform well in school in later years.

Socially, accelerated students tend to perform as well as or slightly better than their age peers. They also perform as well as or slightly better than the older students in the new grade. They fit in, which means that our concern about acceleration somehow damaging students’ social development is unfounded. As a group, they do just fine socially.

Long-Term Benefits

Acceleration has long-term beneficial effects, both academic and social. Accelerated students tend to be more ambitious, earning graduate degrees at higher rates. They hold more prestigious jobs and have a higher productivity rate. Some students say they wish they had accelerated more. They talk about “the gift of time,” meaning that they view the time saved as an opportunity to pursue an additional graduate degree, participate in diverse projects, travel, and get a head start on their careers. Longitudinal research shows us that accelerated students even have an economic advantage: They earn higher salaries than their age peers and higher salaries than the older peers with whom they graduated.

The longitudinal research on social development and academic acceleration is positive overall. Looking back, an overwhelming majority of accelerated students say acceleration was the right decision for them. They do talk about some challenges (for example, being too young to date), but the students say they would do it again, if given the opportunity. In fact, in a 2020 study (Bernstein, Lubinski, and Benbow) that followed accelerated students for 35 years, the authors state that our concerns about a negative impact of acceleration on social/emotional development are “fruitless.”

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Dare We Say It? Not Accelerating Students Who Are Ready is Educational Malpractice

Maybe those are strong words, but with all the research supporting the decision to accelerate students who are ready, doesn’t it make sense to at least consider this option? Have courage and do your research! There is a lot of information available to help you make informed, research-based decisions in the best interests of your students.

For More Information

A Nation Empowered:

  • Volume 1 was written for the educated layperson. It includes personal stories of acceleration as well as an overview of the research.
  • Volume 2: Contains the supporting research

Acceleration Institute:

  • Website with information useful to parents, educators, administrators, and policymakers.
  • Also see the Annotated Bibliography on the Acceleration Institute website. You’ll find sections on academic effects of acceleration, long-term effects, radical acceleration, rural students, etc.
Professional Development About Acceleration:
Upcoming Webinar

The Belin-Blank Center will provide a webinar on the Integrated Acceleration System for teachers and administrators on Tuesday, September 13th from 4:00-5:30 p.m. Central time. 
Learn more and sign up here.

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