Author Archives: Ann Shoplik

Guidebooks for Parents and Educators

Parents and educators are often looking for useful resources in gifted education. We would like to highlight a few. The Davidson Institute’s guidebooks for parents and educators on advocacy, early entrance to college, homeschooling, mentorships, and twice exceptional students can be downloaded for free:

The Belin-Blank Center offers extensive information on academic acceleration in several publications.

  • A Nation Empowered: An update to the watershed report on acceleration, A Nation Deceived, the 2015 report provides the latest research on acceleration. A Nation Empowered: Volume 1 is written in an accessible format for parents, educators, policymakers, and the general public. A Nation Empowered: Volume 2 provides the research and an in-depth look at topics specific to acceleration, including grade-skipping, early entrance to college, twice exceptional students, and longitudinal research.
  • A Nation Deceived, Volume 1: Published in 2004, this volume includes an overview of the issues surrounding acceleration for gifted students. The discussion of the myths is still relevant today.

Two resources on twice-exceptional students are also provided by the Belin-Blank Center:

The Hoagies Gifted website provides a somewhat overwhelming list of books in gifted education. We encourage you to visit the page again and again. Hint: start with the books that have a star next to them. Some of those are classics.

Coming soon: New Online Integrated Acceleration System

We are developing a new online system to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration described in A Nation Empowered, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject acceleration, early entrance to college/university, and grade-skipping. This will all be done in an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the appropriate information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions.

Would you like more information? Click here to be added to the email list

I Think My Child Needs to Skip a Grade

Recently, we received this email:

My son just finished second grade. I think he needs to skip a grade and start fourth grade in the fall.  We are looking for help in requesting a whole grade skip.  I have learned that acceleration is not mandated in my state. How should we start? Is there a formal way of putting in my application?

The Belin-Blank Center doesn’t provide a formal application for acceleration that will work in every state, but we can give you some direction to get you started.

First, learn about the policies in your state and your school or district. Are there policies regarding acceleration on the state or local level?  A good place to begin is the policy page on the Acceleration Institute website.

Gather some information about acceleration, so you have an understanding of the research and how acceleration can be used with gifted students. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has been built up that demonstrates that acceleration is an effective tool for challenging gifted students. An excellent place to start learning about that is A Nation Empowered. Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and is suitable for sharing with busy administrators and others who might be looking for a summary on acceleration. Volume 2 includes the research behind this option.  This research demonstrates that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not cause a negative impact on social/emotional development.

Keep the lines of communication open. Meet with your child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, and/or principal. Learn about the options in your school. Share with them your concerns about ensuring your child is challenged in school. Understand that these professionals might not have been exposed to much information about acceleration in their training, so some of the information you have discovered might be new to them.

Go through the decision-making process. If a student is a candidate for a whole-grade skip, we advocate using the Iowa Acceleration Scale. This tool was developed specifically to address this question and helps families and educators to work together to consider aspects of development that are important in a decision about grade skipping. These include the student’s ability, aptitude, and achievement, as well as developmental factors, physical and social development, and support from the school and family.

Alternatively, or perhaps in addition to a conversation about a whole grade skip, you might think about subject acceleration. Moving ahead in one or more subjects might be the best alternative for a student who isn’t ready for a whole grade skip or has already skipped a grade, but needs additional challenge in a particular subject. An important tool for this discussion is above-level testing.

No discussion of acceleration is complete without considering social development—this is typically the first concern people mention when we start discussing any type of acceleration, especially grade-skipping.  Research shows that carefully selected students who accelerate do just fine socially. There might be a short adjustment period for the student, but the students typically adjust just as well socially or somewhat better socially than their chronologically older grade-mates. These students fit in just fine.

After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, you should come to a consensus about what is the best decision for your child. Whatever the decision is now, remember that you might need to revisit it again in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who isn’t accelerated now might need acceleration in the future. Also, remember that acceleration doesn’t solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Your child might still benefit from academic summer programs, additional enrichment in school, concurrent enrollment, individually-paced instruction in a strength area, etc. The goal is to challenge the student systematically throughout the school years.

Resources

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015). A nation empowered: Evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students. Iowa City, IA: Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. www.nationempowered.org 

Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2011). Developing Math Talent (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

See www.accelerationinstitute.org for more evidence. 

Are You Thinking about Early Entrance to College? This May Be the Time to Take the ACT

The Belin-Blank Center frequently recommends above-level testing for academically talented students because it gives students the opportunity to “show what they can do” and demonstrate their abilities on a test that was developed for older students. This is a common-sense approach to discovering academically talented students. These students have already performed very well on grade-level tests, and they need a greater challenge to demonstrate their aptitudes fully.

Using a grade-level achievement test to measure the aptitudes of an academically talented student is kind of like using a 3-foot yardstick to measure someone who is 5 feet tall. The grade-level yardstick isn’t long enough to measure the student’s height accurately. By giving a student a test that was developed for older students (an above-level test), we are making our yardstick longer and helping to learn more precise information about the student’s capabilities.

The ACT, the test that many students take in 11th or 12th grade as part of the college admissions process, has been used since the 1980s to discover students who are ready for greater academic challenges. We recommend that 7th-9th grade students who have already performed very well on grade-level achievement tests (such as the Iowa Assessments) be encouraged to take the ACT. They can take this test through any one of the university-based talent searches, including the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.

What can you do with the information? Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of programs, including programs offered by the Belin-Blank Center. An important opportunity selected students might also consider is early entrance to college. The Belin-Blank Center hosts the Bucksbaum Academy, which is an early entrance to college program for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade. We recommend that 9th graders who are interested in considering early entrance to college take the ACT in June or in the fall of 10th grade.

If your student is a 9th grader this year, it’s not too early to think about taking the ACT. Students can take the test in June and receive their scores during the summer. This information can then be included in the admissions packet submitted to the University of Iowa. It’s important to note that applicants to the Bucksbaum Academy must take the ACT or SAT by November of their 10th grade year in order to be considered for some University of Iowa scholarships.

Even if your academically talented 7th-9th grade students aren’t thinking that early entrance to college is in their future, we still encourage them to take the ACT. Taking this test at a young age provides bright students with many advantages: (1) more information about their aptitudes, (2) opportunities to qualify for a variety of summer and school-year programs, (3) the chance to try out a fun challenge, and (4) for students earning outstanding scores, the opportunity to be recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.

Challenging Learners Who Already Understand Grade Level Material

Guest post by Gerald Aungst
Adjunct lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center, and Gifted Support Teacher at the Cheltenham School District in Pennsylvania

The Belin-Blank Center moderates a Gifted Teachers’ Listserv, where educators from all over Iowa, the United States, and the world share resources, information, and support related to gifted education. This post originated on our listserv by Gerald Aungst, who graciously agreed to share his thoughts on our blog, as well. All opinions belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Belin-Blank Center or University of Iowa. 

Anyone who has had to sit through a meeting or training session about a topic which you understand well knows the feeling. You want to get on with it and move into something new and different. You want something useful. You want something meaningful.

And yet the idea persists in schools that when a student masters a skill quickly or already understands a topic we are introducing to the rest of the class, the best thing we can give that advanced learner is more of the same. “Oh, you finished the math worksheet already? Here’s another one with more problems to do.” Or “You wrote that 5-paragraph essay already? Well, then I guess your next essay needs to be 10 paragraphs.”

There is a place for honing and maintaining a difficult skill. Professional basketball players keep practicing free throws. Professional musicians keep practicing scales. But we need to ask if “more of the same” is the best option for a student with the limited time we have them in school.

Do you have colleagues or administrators who don’t see the value of giving advanced learners new, different things so they can continue to learn and grow? Here are a few resources to help you make your case.

Start with the NAGC position statements, which include references to relevant studies:

The Acceleration Institute has abundant resources on different options for acceleration. This brief policy summary, for example, has some great talking points for administrators. For more comprehensive explanations and a thorough review of extensive research on the topic, share A Nation Empowered to show why acceleration works.

Differentiation is another way to help students who may know some of the material in advance or who pick it up quickly. For quick overviews check out 7 Reasons Why Differentiated Instruction Works and What Works for Differentiating Instruction in Elementary Schools (many of these ideas are adaptable to middle and high school learners as well).

And of course Susan Winebrenner’s book Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom is full of strategies for differentiating and accelerating for advanced learners, backed up by decades of experience and research.

For more posts by Gerald Aungst, visit his website at geraldaungst.com.

If you are an educator looking for professional learning opportunities to help you better teach and understand gifted children, be sure to check out the Belin-Blank Center’s extensive list of courses and workshops on programming and curriculum. Each course corresponds to one of the educational strands necessary for the Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement and will help you develop your expertise in the new NAGC-CEC Teacher Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. For more information, visit belinblank.org/educators

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

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!