Category Archives: Integrated Acceleration System

The Integrated Acceleration System: Answering Your Questions About Grade-Skipping

Making a decision about acceleration, specifically a grade skip, can be intimidating.

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs. 

The Integrated Acceleration System includes:

  1. Numerous items that relate to the student’s social-emotional development, which is often a concern when we begin discussions about grade-skipping.
  2. Questions that are asked of the student. 
  3. A question about IEPs and 504 plans. An affirmative response provides access to Belin-Blank Center experts on twice-exceptionality.
  4. Guidance for collecting relevant data about achievement, ability, and aptitude.
  5. A report that is based upon the comprehensive responses of the team.

What are the Differences Between the Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale?

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (3rd edition, 2009, published by Gifted Unlimited) is a paper-and-pencil guide that provides a total score describing where a student fits as a candidate for acceleration. It focuses on students in K-8th grade.

The Integrated Acceleration System, developed by the Belin-Blank Center, is an online, interactive tool that produces a detailed report and a recommendation about the suitability of acceleration as an intervention for the student. The report details the data that were gathered as well as the comments team members made about the data and discussion. It focuses on pre-K through high school students. The Integrated Acceleration System currently examines the suitability of grade-skipping. The Belin-Blank Center team will soon launch modules focused on subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college.

​The Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale are not the same product, even though they both have the same authors and they both revolve around academic acceleration. The Iowa Acceleration Scale is still a useful paper/pencil guide. The Integrated Acceleration System is entirely online and interactive. It walks educators and families through the data collection process, explains which tests are needed for an acceleration decision, and facilitates conversations about acceleration. The steps of the process include Build the Team, Learn About Acceleration, Gather the Data, Interview the Student, Conduct the Child Study Team Meeting, and Create and Execute the Transition Plan.

What sets the Integrated Acceleration System apart is that it produces a detailed report with recommendations about acceleration and suggestions based upon the team’s responses. It also begins the process of developing a transition plan for the student, if a grade skip is determined to be the best intervention for that student. Additionally, it provides access to the experts at the Belin-Blank Center if the student is diagnosed as twice-exceptional.

An educator serves as the facilitator of the process. Parents are important members of the Child Study team, which also includes the current teacher, receiving teacher, administrators, and others who might have relevant information. Parents reading this article are encouraged to work with their child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, or administrator in starting this process.

We are excited to share this new tool with you!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System at an introductory price of $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. We invite educators to reserve yours today! If you have questions, you are welcome to contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

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.

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.

Introducing the Integrated Acceleration System

We are excited to announce the launch of the Integrated Acceleration System!

Making decisions about whether to accelerate a student can seem intimidating. We can help. 

The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that integrates all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a complete, multi-page report that offers an evidence-based recommendation, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the students’ academic needs. 

What do educators say? 

“The Integrated Acceleration System is exactly the tool all districts need to do the right thing for a student. I found it to be comprehensive and easy to use. Once our team experienced the depth of data included in the Integrated Acceleration System, they felt comfortable in the process to determine the appropriateness of a grade skip…. An excellent tool!”

Dr. Randy Lange, Talent Development Services Program Coordinator at LaGrange District 102, Illinois  

We’re celebrating with introductory pricing!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System for $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. This introductory pricing ends with the 2020-21 academic year, so reserve yours today!

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. 

To Test or Not to Test: Is That the Question?

Written by Dr. Susan Assouline, Director of the Belin-Blank Center

Susan Assouline

We sometimes hear from parents, educators, and students who question the value of standardized tests, particularly as colleges and universities suspend testing requirements due to the pandemic. While there are valid concerns among these questions, I propose that test bias, rather than the value of testing itself, represents the more relevant question.

Test bias is an important topic that merits more significant discussion than is possible in this short blog post. Nevertheless, it’s important to offer guidance on such a complex issue because the many ways we discover talented students include standardized testing.

The test-development industry, state and federal courts, and higher education institutions have considered the complex topic of test bias for several decades. Early in the 20th century, tests contained blatant content, cultural, and ethnic bias. However, the field has evolved and established new standards, guidelines, and principles related to assessments. Now, three decades into the 21st century, the simple response to the question, “Are tests biased?” is, “It’s complicated.” 

Today’s standardized testing industry aims to reduce content bias in test items through the test development process. However, there is still the potential for ethnic and cultural bias during the administration and interpretation process. Moreover, our current education system’s inequitable nature means that not all students receive the same opportunities to learn.

Educators’ understanding of issues of equity in assessment is crucial. Educators can choose a test that research supports as equitable. They can administer the tests fairly, interpret results correctly, and provide the supports and challenges that help students learn and grow to the best of their abilities. 

People often make claims of test bias based on how schools have used tests to exclude students from gifted and talented programming. A common practice is to use standardized tests to limit the number of students eligible for specialized programs and services. The Belin-Blank Center takes the opposite approach. We use standardized tests to discover high-potential learners who need growth opportunities. 

The licensed psychologists in the center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic rely on tests to better understand individual students’ unique needs. Two of our grant-funded outreach programs, STEM Excellence and Javits Talent Identification-Career Exploration (TICE), use a standardized test called I-Excel as the first step in providing an academic challenge to traditionally underserved students. Because I-Excel administers 8th-grade content to 4th through 6th graders, it serves as an above-level test. The Belin-Blank Center expanded the guidelines to include more students in the above-level testing process. In this way, we discover a broader pool of middle-school students ready for advanced academic challenges.   

To create best-fit interventions that benefit learners, we must use the appropriate tools. In many cases, this includes standardized testing. However, whenever we use tests, we have an ethical responsibility to recognize the ever-present potential for bias. Thus, it’s complicated.

We use tests because we know they can help us better understand learners’ needs. Still, we also know that test results are only one useful tool in a more extensive toolkit. It is essential for those using the results to interpret and supplement them in a manner that accounts for potential bias.

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.  

Why Am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

The short answer to this question is that I am tired of gifted students being under-challenged in school. They need the intellectual stimulation that comes from rigorous courses taught at a reasonably advanced level, and acceleration can provide that stimulation. The longer answer is, I am familiar with the research (over 70 years of research, to be precise!). Academic acceleration has more research support than any other educational option for gifted students. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. The research tells us that gifted students benefit from acceleration and are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject. As a group, gifted students who accelerated grow up into higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive in the short-term and the long-term.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Results of the research are summarized clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive publication, A Nation Empowered.  It’s time to put that information to work.  There are at least 20 different types of acceleration, including grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, online learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. Since there are so many forms of acceleration, we can tailor accelerative opportunities to the needs of individual gifted students. Acceleration means allowing gifted students to move ahead in school, at a pace appropriate to their needs. Acceleration can be implemented individually, in small groups, and in large groups. Each type of acceleration can be used to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

Educators and parents do not have to be afraid of implementing acceleration. Tools are available to help them make well-informed decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, as well as the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider important aspects of acceleration, including academic development, social development, physical development, and school and parental support for the decision), IDEAL Solutions (developed to assist educators and parents as they consider subject matter acceleration in STEM subjects), and university-based talent search programs, which help identify students and give them challenging courses they can take in the summer or school year or via online learning opportunities. The Belin-Blank Center is also developing a new, online tool called the Integrated Acceleration System to help guide the discussion about different forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten or college, grade-skipping, and subject acceleration, all while taking into account special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, start with the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families. Educational policy enthusiasts will be interested in the document, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. Researchers will enjoy perusing the annotated bibliography.

We have the research and the tools to help us make good decisions about implementing acceleration for academically talented students. Now, we need the courage to act.

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 added to 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 is currently developing a new online 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. 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. To sign up to receive more information about the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

Advocating for Acceleration: Suggestions for Parents

Post edited 4/29/2021

A parent recently told us about her child’s teacher, who confidently stated, “Well, you know the research tells us that it’s a really bad idea for kids to start kindergarten early.” Another parent said that the climate at his children’s school is unsupportive of acceleration. When approached about the possibility of subject acceleration or grade acceleration, the principal simply said, “Kids who accelerate don’t fit in.”

Those of us who have read (and done some of) the research want to jump into those conversations with both feet, summarize 70 years of research, and demand accelerative opportunities for the children. This isn’t necessarily the best approach. Being an advocate for our children might mean introducing information slowly or finding ways to inform educators other than forcefully giving them a list of the “Top Ten Reasons My Child Should be Allowed to Accelerate.”

One important thing to mention up front is that many educators simply have not had the opportunity to be informed about acceleration. Even in graduate programs in gifted education, educators don’t necessarily learn about the research and tools for acceleration, let alone how to practice acceleration in schools. Regular education teachers and administrators spend very little time in their undergraduate courses learning about gifted students, and even less time studying acceleration. All of this means that you, the parent, might be better informed than the educator sitting in front of you. It also means that the educator sitting in front of you might, with every good intention, believe that certain myths about acceleration are true.

Get ready. You might have to learn the information on your own, and you might be the one teaching your teachers and administrators about acceleration. Fear not! There are lots of tools to help you with this.

Learn the facts.  Research tells us that acceleration is often the most appropriate avenue for helping academically talented students find a match between their abilities and the curriculum available at their school. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute gathers important research and information about acceleration in one place. Research articles, practical advice, video stories – it’s all there. Other great places to find information include the Hoagies Gifted website and the Davidson Institute website.

Share what you have learned. Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and Volume 1 of A Nation Deceived are both very approachable resources that a busy administrator or teacher can read quickly. You can download both of those documents for free from the websites linked above. If you want even more information about the research, read Volume 2 of A Nation Empowered.

Be reassured that there are objective tools that can help us know when it is appropriate to accelerate a student. You don’t have to make the decision about a grade skip or subject acceleration based on a “gut feeling.” The Iowa Acceleration Scale was designed to help families and educators work together to gather information, discuss important factors, and make an informed decision about whole-grade acceleration. Above-level testing is the essential tool for making decisions about subject acceleration. The Integrated Acceleration System is a new platform recently developed by the Belin-Blank Center focused on helping educators and families determine if a grade skip, early entrance to kindergarten or college, or subject acceleration are a good fit for their student. This new platform also draws on the Belin-Blank Center staff members’ extensive experience with twice-exceptional students and special considerations when accelerating them.

Advocacy might also mean helping to write policy for your school or district. First, a caution: Policy work takes a long time. If you are trying to resolve a situation for your child, focus on your child and the issues that are pertinent to your child. Don’t try to solve everything for everyone. Leave the policy for another day.  However, if you are in a position to help make things better for future students, this might be the time to have policy discussions. Together, the Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced a helpful document on Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. This should help you get started on writing defensible policies for acceleration.

OK. It may seem like a lot but have courage. You have the tools, you have the information, and you can be an effective advocate for your child’s acceleration.