Category Archives: Integrated Acceleration System

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!

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