Category Archives: Integrated Acceleration System

Preparing for an Acceleration Meeting: What’s an Educator to Do?

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One of the students in your school is being considered for acceleration, and you are facilitating this discussion. You have talked about this with the family and other teachers, strategized with administrators, gathered the data, and scheduled a meeting. What are the final steps you need to complete as you prepare for this meeting?

The regular classroom teacher who is invited to attend the meeting may not have had any significant training in gifted education or academic acceleration, but they would have been exposed to surface level concepts such as academic rigor, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or the wide variability among their students in terms of their academic abilities; these ideas direct our thinking to considering options such as acceleration for individual students. Resources such as Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and the educator page of the Acceleration Institute website will provide an introduction to acceleration and answer basic questions about the short-term and long-term impact of acceleration.  Parents or guardians and school administrators would also benefit from similar introductory materials (e.g., see the parent’s page).

The team of individuals who come together to talk about acceleration for a particular student generally includes the parent or guardian, an administrator, the current classroom teacher, receiving (future) teacher, gifted teacher or coordinator, and others who have information and knowledge relevant to the discussion. Whether you’re using the Integrated Acceleration System or another tool to help guide you through the process of making decisions about acceleration, you’ll want to consider these items before the team meets:

  1. Answer team members’ questions through individual meetings or via email/phone. Make sure they have informative resources such as the ones listed above.
  2. It is likely the current classroom teacher has already been talking with gifted education staff about the student concerning strategies and options for meeting the student’s needs. Your support might be needed in these discussions.
  3. Determine the purpose of the meeting. Is it to introduce acceleration as an option or to make a decision about acceleration?
  4. It is important to present to the parents the options that have already been made available to their student. These might include special projects the student has completed, distance learning options, and/or flexible grouping for high-ability readers. Highlighting strategies that have already been in place starts the meeting off on a positive note.
  5. Pre-plan possible options. For example, consider what additional supports might be offered to the student and regular classroom teacher if the decision is not to accelerate the student. Consider when and how the student will be advanced to the next grade, if the decision is made to accelerate. Consider how subject acceleration might be implemented if that is the option chosen for the student.
    • Key “If We Grade Skip” questions might be: What scaffolding might be needed? What coordination (e.g., desk in the room, name added to classroom charts, consumables acquired) needs to be addressed? What closure might be needed in the current grade? Which grade level state testing will be administered? Who will be the receiving classroom “buddy”?
    • Key “If We Do NOT Grade Skip” questions might be: What are the student’s key strengths and areas requiring growth? Is the student a candidate for subject acceleration? What classroom differentiation as well as outside of school enrichment opportunities might be appropriate? How might the parents/guardians be assured that the student will be challenged in school?
  6. Make a list of topics to be discussed at the meeting, such as:
    • Discuss the data that were collected, including standardized testing results and informal information about what the student does in the classroom and at home.
    • Discuss the student’s approach to something novel and challenging.
    • Give stakeholders the opportunity to share what they know about the student.
    • Prepare questions that will get the family involved in the discussion, such as “Tell us about your child?” “What do you see at home?” Ask what they might have observed from the past year or previous years.
    • What does the student do outside of school? These might include online opportunities, community activities, museum visits, public speaking opportunities, and/or mentorships.

Sample Team Meeting Agenda

11:00 AM – Introductions and brief general overview of the tool used, the Integrated Acceleration System, and its purpose

11:10 AM – Overview of Integrated Acceleration System Sections A-D.

11:15 AM – Discuss items of interest from previously completed sections.

11:25 AM – Discuss achievement, ability, and aptitude testing information. Consider strengths and opportunities for growth.

11:35 AM – Discuss Questions for the Meeting from the Integrated Acceleration System.

11:45 AM – Review the email list of who will receive the student report. Generate the report. Read the recommendations and discuss them. Make a decision.

12:00 PM – Plan next steps (including any additional data that needs to be collected)

12:15 PM – Determine who will monitor the transition, if the decision is to accelerate the student.

Special thanks to Randy Lange for a productive discussion that informed this blog.

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Who is Ready for Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

How do we know which children might be ready to start kindergarten early? We hear lots of stories from parents about children who seemed to learn to read spontaneously – one parent said her 3-year-old started reading the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathtub. Other parents notice their child demonstrating an early interest in time (“Grandpa, only 17 minutes until we leave for the playground!”) or a facility with numbers and sophisticated vocabulary. These anecdotes might lead us to wonder if a child is indeed ready to enter formal schooling at an age younger than typical.

Before getting into this process, it’s really helpful to learn about the policies concerning early entrance to kindergarten in your state. Some states actually prohibit early entrance to kindergarten in public school. (Note: families might work around that by sending their child early to a non-public school for a year or two, then transferring to public school later.) Learn about your state’s early entrance to kindergarten policies here.

We’ve mentioned some of the characteristics of young, bright children: early reading, facility with numbers, and advanced vocabulary. Typically, researchers have found that the best candidates for early entrance are at least 4 ½ years old. Other characteristics include long attention span, extraordinary memory, and an ability to generalize and make connections between different areas of learning.

Won’t early entrants “burn out” on academics or become social outcasts? In a meta-analysis of  research studies focusing on acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, researchers found that students did very well academically and were better adjusted socially and emotionally compared to older students. In other words, as a group, students who entered kindergarten early did just fine socially, putting to rest our concern about accelerated students becoming social “misfits.”

When thinking about making this important decision, we might weigh the pros and cons. On the “pro” side, students entering school early won’t experience the social disruptions or concerns about gaps in their educational background that we would have for students skipping a grade at a later time.  The biggest negative is probably centered around the fact that 4-year-olds don’t have much of a track record in school; since we don’t have much school history to analyze, we tend to be cautious and recommend early entrance to kindergarten for only those students who are clearly ready. It seems prudent to wait and consider acceleration later for others.

The decision about early entrance to kindergarten can be made after collecting objective test data as well as measures of psychosocial functioning.  The Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic uses a full intellectual battery (WPPSI-IV or Stanford Binet-5) and full achievement test (Woodcock Johnson-IV). Achievement test results should be calculated using grade level and above level (usually one to two years) norms. This information can then be entered in the Iowa Acceleration Scale, 3rd edition, which is a tool designed to help educators and families make effective decisions regarding a grade skip. Families and educators need to work together to discuss the results of the assessment and collaboratively discuss appropriate strategies for meeting the child’s needs. The final decision must be made between the family and the school.

The Belin-Blank Center has recently developed the new online Integrated Acceleration System to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject accelerationearly entrance to college, grade-skipping, and acceleration with twice-exceptional students. The grade-skipping form of acceleration has already been launched. Early entrance to kindergarten and the other forms of acceleration will be coming soon. The Integrated Acceleration System provides an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the needed information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about acceleration and the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

Transition Planning for Grade-Skipping

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An important part of the discussion concerning skipping a grade includes considering how the transition to acceleration might occur. Grade-skipping happens after careful discussion and planning, with contributions from a team that includes teachers, administrators, and parents. These team members play an important role in developing the transition plan.

Some schools have a formal transition plan document that the team completes as part of the discussion.  If there is not a specific form to complete, below is a list of items that can be included in the transition planning discussion.

  • Answering the receiving teacher’s questions. This teacher might be uncertain about how to support the accelerated student, if the teacher has no previous experience with grade-skipping. The student’s current teacher might meet with the receiving teacher to make suggestions about ways to support the student, specific strengths, concerns the student has, etc.
  • Opportunities for the student to visit the new classroom and meet the new teacher before the acceleration occurs.
  • Other transition activities might include a tour of the school (if the student will move to a new building), learning about the cafeteria system, learning how to use a locker, and other activities that might help the student to become more comfortable in the new environment.
  • Support for the student, and a go-to person (such as the school counselor) if the student wants to chat about any concerns.
  • Identifying and filling in any academic gaps. Diagnostic testing will help to document gaps. The student might need time to meet individually with a teacher to learn new content, have questions answered, and clear up any misunderstandings about the content. It should be noted that the beginning of the school year is often a time for review for all students, and this review period will also help fill in the student’s gaps, if the acceleration will occur early in the year.
  • Trial period. Educators often plan for a trial period of 4 to 6 weeks before the decision to skip a grade is finalized. This amount of time allows the student to adjust to new routines and the new level of challenge. It is common for a student to feel somewhat overwhelmed or discouraged at first. Those feelings are normal.
  • Regular check-ins with the student. These might occur weekly or even daily at first.
  • Regular communication with the family.
  • Someone specifically assigned to monitor the transition. This is often the person who facilitated the team meeting in which the grade-skipping decision was made. This individual would be responsible for any follow-up and check-ins with the student as well as others who need to be made aware of the student’s progress and the success of the acceleration.
  • After the student has moved into the new grade, it will be helpful for the student and parents to meet with the school counselor to discuss the acceleration as well as how it might have an impact on course scheduling now and in the future.
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Indicators of a successful acceleration include:

  • The student is motivated and enthusiastic about the acceleration and is challenged (but not overly frustrated) by the new academic work.
  • The student makes new friends but keeps old friends.
  • The student has a positive attitude about school.

Ohio provides examples of Written Transition Plans that help you to consider factors to include in the transition plan. Michigan also provides some guidance about the transition to acceleration.

You might be interested in learning more about the recently-launched online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

Interested in learning even more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 14-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

We would like to thank Wendy Behrens and Dr. Randy Lange for helpful discussions contributing to this article.

Is Grade-Skipping Right for Your Student?

Making the decision for a student to skip a grade involves several steps. A facilitator leads the process; the facilitator might be a gifted coordinator, teacher, or principal, or another building or district administrator. The facilitator helps the team members to learn about acceleration, gathers appropriate data about the student, and leads the team meeting where grade-skipping is discussed. The facilitator might also be responsible for monitoring the student’s transition to acceleration if the decision is made to skip a grade.

Build the Team. Required team members  include the facilitator, parents, current teacher, and receiving teacher. Other team members might be administrators, additional teachers, school psychologists, counselors, other school support staff, local educational agency staff, or coaches or other adults who know the student well.

Learn About Acceleration. Team members, including the parents, might have questions about the efficacy of acceleration and why it is being considered for the student. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has accumulated documenting that acceleration is an effective intervention for challenging gifted students. A Nation Empowered gathers that research into an accessible format; Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and Volume 2 includes the research supporting this educational option.  The research documents that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not create a negative impact on social/emotional development, which is a frequently mentioned concern.

Gather the Data. Data needed to inform the decision include achievement, aptitude, and ability testing, student behavior, extracurricular activities, social/emotional development, physical development, demographic information, and school history. It is also important to discuss the potential grade skip with the student, answer questions, and discover hesitations or concerns.

The Team Meeting. After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, the team meets to discuss and decide the best option for the student. If the decision is made to accelerate, it is important to develop a transition plan and determine who will be responsible for follow-up with the student, teachers, and family. No matter the decision, changes might be required in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who is not accelerated now might need acceleration a year or more from now. Additionally, acceleration will not solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Students who have already skipped a grade might also benefit from individually paced instruction in a strength area, academic summer programs, concurrent enrollment, additional enrichment in school, and other educational opportunities.

Three Important Reasons Not to Skip a Grade. (1) Students who have a sibling in the next grade or in the current grade are not recommended for a grade skip. Developers of the Integrated Acceleration System highly recommend against acceleration in this case, due to concerns about family dynamics. For example, if a younger student moves into an older student’s grade, the older student might question his or her abilities and performance in school and possibly will resent the younger sibling. If the age of the sibling is an issue, it is important to devise other opportunities to challenge the student, such as subject acceleration, online courses, and enrichment experiences. (2) The overall ability of the student (as measured by an IQ test, such as the Cognitive Abilities Test, Wechsler Intelligences Scales, or Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales) should be at least one standard deviation above average; students with average or below average ability are not likely to be successful if they skip a grade. (3) If the student is not in favor of acceleration, the acceleration will not be successful. The student needs to be committed to the idea of moving ahead. Even if one of these important reasons is present, it is still often helpful to go through a formal discussion process about acceleration; gathering data and meeting with the team will provide opportunities to discuss different options for challenging the student.

Making the Transition to the Next Grade. If the decision is made to grade-skip a student, the next important task is to discuss a transition plan. This might include establishing a trial period, having the student visit the new classroom and meet the teacher, and regular check-in meetings with a school counselor or other adult who will monitor the student during this time. Including the receiving teacher in these discussions is critical, because of this teacher’s important role in making the grade skip work well. It is also important to keep the lines of communication open between the receiving teacher and the family, so both are alerted to issues or concerns early.

All of the factors discussed above (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). The Belin-Blank Center anticipates launching the Integrated Acceleration System in mid-April.

Interested in learning more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 14-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Using Achievement, Aptitude, and Ability Tests for Acceleration Decisions

Achievement, aptitude, and ability tests:  What do those terms mean, and how are these three types of tests used in academic acceleration decisions?  Since the words can be a bit confusing, let’s take them one step at a time. 

Achievement testing is common in schools. Achievement tests measure the student’s learning in specific content areas in the student’s current grade. They are called “achievement” tests because they were developed to measure past learning. “Standardized” tests are typically developed to measure the progress of groups of students. All students are tested under similar conditions and the test items are from a specific item bank. They differ from teacher-made achievement tests, which are not subject to the rigorous test item development usually seen in standardized testing. Examples of standardized achievement tests are the state tests such as ISASP in Iowa or STAAR in Texas. Other examples of standardized tests include Terra Nova, Stanford Achievement Tests, or Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The Belin-Blank Center highly recommends using the Iowa Assessments (available through Riverside Publishing) if other achievement tests are not already available. For acceleration decisions, we recommend using achievement test data from the past year. Achievement testing is important in acceleration decisions to determine if the student has already mastered the material he or she will be skipping. Frequently, students who are considered for grade-skipping have already scored in the 90th or 95th percentile in many subjects compared to agemates. 

Aptitude testing is important for acceleration discussions because these tests provide information about what a student is ready to learn. Aptitude testing is less dependent on specific content (which is why it is in the center position in the graphic above). General aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability that is unrelated to specific instruction in a school setting. Specific aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability for material in a content area that has not yet been formally presented to the learner. One of the best indicators of a bright student’s aptitude in a specific content area is the student’s performance on an above-level test, a test that was developed for older students. These tests include I-Excel, ACT, SAT, and above-level Iowa Assessments (usually two grade levels above the student’s current grade). For purposes of acceleration decisions, aptitude testing should have been completed within the past two years. Students earning scores in the 50th percentile and above when compared to older students might be considered for acceleration in their strength area. These guidelines are intended to help us predict that the student will continue to be successful in the higher grade if accelerated. 

Ability testing rounds out the trio of types of tests. Ability testing tells us about a student’s potential for success in school. An intelligence test (also known as an IQ test or cognitive ability test) is required for acceleration decisions, especially grade-skipping and early entrance to kindergarten. A group or individual test may be used. Measures of verbal ability are highly correlated with performance in school, so verbal IQ scores are especially useful. Tests include: Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Ability testing should have been administered within the past two years for acceleration decisions. The Belin-Blank Center recommends that students considered for grade-skipping would have scored at least one standard deviation above the mean (average) on a cognitive ability test; in other words, the student scores 115 or higher on an intelligence test that has an average score of 100. In contrast, students earning average cognitive ability test scores are more likely to have their learning needs met with grade-level curriculum and at the same pace as their grade-level peers. 

Data gathered from all three of the above types of tests are important in making acceleration decisions. This objective information helps us to compare students to other bright students and to determine if acceleration is indeed in the best interests of a particular student. Other information is important in the discussion about acceleration, including psychosocial factors, school support, and family support. All of these factors (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). 

Interested in learning more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 7-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Who Makes the Decision about Academic Acceleration?

It shouldn’t be left to one person to make a decision about academic acceleration, especially whole-grade acceleration (also called grade-skipping). It takes a team to consider all the relevant information and implement a plan.

At the Belin-Blank Center, we recommend that this child study team include:

  • at least one parent or guardian,
  • a facilitator (often a gifted coordinator),
  • the child’s current teacher, and
  • the “receiving teacher” in the higher grade with whom the child would be placed.

An administrator, such as a principal, might also participate in the team meeting. Additional individuals who might be consulted during the process include other teachers, the school counselor, the school psychologist, and the gifted education teacher.

Of course, the student needs to be included in the discussions in an age-appropriate manner, although not in the final meeting where the data are discussed and the decision is made.  

You might wonder about which teacher would be considered the “current teacher” if a student has different teachers for different subjects. Consider selecting a teacher who knows the student well. It is certainly appropriate to request feedback from any teacher who is currently working with the student. More than one might participate more actively in the process and attend meeting(s) about the student. For receiving teacher, consider asking several teachers who would have that student in the future to participate in the discussion.

One person on the team (often the gifted coordinator) serves as facilitator and gathers appropriate information such as test scores and feedback from other team members. Once the information is gathered, the facilitator schedules a team meeting to discuss the “fit” of acceleration and to make a decision. Finally, the facilitator helps to develop and implement a transition plan, so the move from one grade to another is smooth.

The Belin-Blank Center is in the process of developing the new Integrated Acceleration System, which will help educators and families investigate the “fit” of subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college for their student, with special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you’re interested in learning even more about academic acceleration, the Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online from June 7- August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment.

And be sure to check back for the upcoming launch of the Integrated Acceleration System or click here to be notified when it is released.

Subject Acceleration: What Are the Issues?

Subject acceleration is one way to match the curriculum to high-ability students’ needs and ensure that they are appropriately challenged. A common method of subject acceleration is moving a student from one grade to another for a particular subject in which the student has strong abilities. For example, a second grader might move to the third-grade classroom for math, then move back to their second grade classroom for all other subjects.

A number of issues are associated with subject acceleration. There is no single right answer to the questions raised by these issues, but it is important to consider them.

  • Scheduling. Will the student miss a class in a different subject? Some schools have solved this issue by scheduling core subjects at the same time. For example, Northside School District schedules math at the same time for every grade across the district. Alternatively, a middle school student might begin the day early at the high school for science, then go to the middle school at the regular start time for all other classes.
  • Transportation. The middle schooler in the example above might need to be bussed from one building to another. Some school districts will provide transportation; others expect the parents to drive the student.
  • Gaps. If the student moves up a grade for a particular subject, how do we know whether the student has any important knowledge gaps? The simple solution is pre-testing to determine where these gaps are, and then spending some time tutoring the student on the missing information. It may take just a few short tutoring sessions to fill in gaps and ensure placement in a challenging course for the whole school year.
  • Credit. Granting credit and recording that on a transcript helps prevent the student from being asked to repeat the course at a later time. There are questions related to credit, however. For example, should middle school students taking high school courses receive middle school credit, high school credit, or both? Related to that, should the middle school students have those course grades applied to their high school transcripts? This becomes an issue if the student earns a grade that would lower the high school GPA or class rank.
  • “Running out of” classes. Sometimes students are prevented from subject acceleration because of concerns about running out of courses in the future. It is never appropriate to withhold medicine from a sick child because we think we might not have enough medicine for that child in 5 years. Similarly, it is not appropriate to withhold a challenging academic opportunity from a student now because we might not have the appropriate resources in our building a few years down the road. If the needed course is not available in our building, our task becomes finding ways to get the advanced content to the student. After exhausting the high school math curriculum, and advanced student might take an online or in-person college course.
  • Long-term planning. Although concerns about transportation or scheduling issues several years in the future shouldn’t stop us from accelerating a talented student now, we should take the time to consider the long-term impact of this decision and use that time to communicate with administrators, future teachers, and families to be sure we are outlining a smooth path through a challenging curriculum for the student.

Talking through these questions and issues is helpful for the development of school and district policies related to academic acceleration. Devising clear and fair policies helps all students to have access these opportunities, not just those with active parent advocates. The Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject to help educators, policymakers, and parents to think through these issues for their local schools. The Belin-Blank Center is also in the process of developing the new Integrated Acceleration System, which will help educators and families make informed decisions about subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college.