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Understanding Academic Acceleration, Part 2. My child is advanced — should he be tested to accelerate?

May 14, 2013

“Acceleration does not mean pushing a child.  It is about appropriate educational planning.” – A Nation Decieved

A lot of research has been conducted on the benefits of academic acceleration.  Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that children who are properly accelerated do not have negative results socially or emotionally.  In fact, longitudinal studies of accelerated students have found long-lasting academic, social and emotional benefits.  However, it is not the right approach for every advanced student, so it is important to understand when it is appropriate. (see Gifted Child Quarterly, A Nation Decieved, Acceleration Guidelines, and Acceleration Brief for a summary of the research).   Instead of merely rehashing the research, the comments in this article reflect the experiences of 5 CISD parents who decided to accelerate their child – experiences which, coincidentally, closely mirror research findings.  For general information on Academic Acceleration, click here to read Part 1.

Is your child academically ahead of his peers and interested in more complex material?  Acceleration is something to consider – but merely being able to test out of a subject/grade does not guarantee that it is the right decision for your child.  Current research and best practices, as well as advice from other Coppell parents, cite the following as necessary to helping your child achieve success with grade/subject acceleration:

  1. The positive attitude and support of teachers is important
  2. The student is personally motivated and committed to acceleration
  3. The corollary effects are understood and anticipated
  4. The decision is made deliberately to fulfill a purpose

Currently, CISD supports academic acceleration for grade skipping (K-12) and subject advancement (in secondary) when a student demonstrates mastery through testing (scoring a 90% or better).   CISD is in the process of making some changes to Gifted and Talented policies in light of recommendations made by the GT program evaluation committee which presented its findings to the school board in April 2013.  As a result, the current CISD policies about acceleration may change, including the logistic and academic implications discussed below.

CISD Summer Deadlines to apply for Credit by Exam: (click here for more information)

  • July 1 for Kindergarten acceleration (skip Kindergarten)
  • June 4 for elementary grade skipping
  • May 1 and July 1 for Math acceleration in middle school
  • May 1, June 4, July 1 for High School Credit by Exam (either with or without prior instruction)

1. The positive attitude and support of teachers is important

“It is a teacher’s responsibility to provide an environment where a child can succeed; often that includes nurturing emotional needs.” – Shashi Panatpur

We all know that often the biggest impact on a child’s success in the classroom is the teacher.  The 5 parents interviewed praised the positive attitude and support of the teachers in general.  Regardless of whether the child tested out of a full grade or a subject, all of the parents complimented a teacher’s ability to make the transition positive.  However, some parents reported that a few teachers did not appear to appreciate the students in the class who accelerated – for example, when a student asked a question, the teacher would respond along the lines of: “you are supposed to be smart, figure it out.”  This is probably not just the experience for students who accelerate, but likely includes an attitude toward other gifted students in that classroom as well.  While this is not inherently an argument against acceleration, it indicates that not every teacher understands and appreciates the unique needs of gifted learners.  Just because a child is “smart” does not mean that he knows all the answers.  To the contrary, often the purpose of acceleration is to provide an environment where the child does not know the material, thus creating a sound work ethic and inspiring a search for knowledge.

2. The student is personally motivated and committed to acceleration

“Acceleration should be child centered, not parent driven.  Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.” – Shashi Panatpur

Research indicates that student success from acceleration depends heavily on who wants the change, the parent or the child.  The academic burdens of acceleration fall directly on the shoulders of the child.  After all, an accelerated student will ideally no longer know all of the answers in class.  His grades may slip as he has to apply himself to learn new material and study skills.  His homework might require more time commitment, resulting in less time for other activities.  If his self-worth is tied into knowing the answers, his self-esteem may also suffer as a result of being challenged.  As a result, if your child is happy where he is, academic acceleration is probably not the best answer.  Yet, when the child has ownership in the decision to grade/subject accelerate, these potential hardships can be experienced as strengths and acceleration can help rekindle a desire to learn.

  • Parul Singh, who made the decision for her daughter to test out of kindergarten, noticed that her daughter needed challenging experiences to be engaged.  “If she is not learning something new, she switches off.  She won’t even focus on the basic things if she is not challenged enough.”
  • Lynda Airey, whose child tested out of his sophomore year in high school and is graduating from TAMS this spring, investigated acceleration as an option in response to her son’s restlessness and desire to learn more.  “The biggest thing for him was that he was tired of all the stupid stuff. He wanted to do something,” she recalls.  As a student at TAMS, he is taking advanced level college classes as a high school student, and thriving in the experience.  “He would have never been a bad kid, but other things might have suffered because he would have been so bored.  His excitement would not have been there.  He is at a place now where he is recognized for being himself.”
  • Trisha Dubey noticed that her daughters just “didn’t fit in with the other group” because they were advanced academically and socially.  So, she had each assessed and they tested out of first grade.  “They needed to feel challenged and not bored.”
  • Shashi Panatpur, as a teacher in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, was familiar with the positive research about acceleration and considered it for her oldest daughter when she noticed that her daughter’s self-esteem was negatively impacted when she started school.  “She didn’t fit in.  She withdrew.  We talked with her about it and she expressed boredom and frustration.”  After she tested out of kindergarten, her daughter’s enthusiasm for school returned and she continues to thrive.
  • Marueen Pranske encouraged her oldest son to test out of 6th grade math.  “He needed it,” she says, reminding parents to follow their child’s lead before pushing acceleration.  “Understand what the child’s passion is” she warns before considering subject acceleration, “Otherwise, I think it could be a disservice.”

3. The corollary effects are understood and anticipated

“Make sure your child is prepared emotionally and maturely to go into a higher level class as a younger student.  The academic piece is just part of it.” – Maureen Pranske

Kristen Brown, CISD Director of Advanced Academics, encourages parents to consider what is right for each individual child.  “This should be done only when it is in the best interest of the learner,” she urges.  Parents should consider the full spectrum of the school experience and not make this decision lightly, according to Brown.  After all, she points out, “Once you have accelerated, you can’t go back.”  The decision should be made deliberately after considering the corollary implications, including the potential social, emotional, logistic and academic impact.

Social, emotional implications

Although this is the most common reason cited for people advocating against acceleration, research and anecdotal evidence suggest that students can actually benefit socially and emotionally from both grade and subject-matter acceleration… especially in situations where the child has not otherwise connected with age peers.

  • “It has helped quite a bit because it gave her the confidence to be herself and helped her make friends.  She stopped trying to fit in and enjoyed learning again.  If, however, a child is older and has social connections, it would be more of a consideration to make sure they could handle the emotional and social adjustment.” – Parul Singh
  • “They made friends faster because they skipped ahead” because “they didn’t fit in with the other group.” – Trisha Dubey
  • “My son is now respected for his intelligence.  He has developed his social skills more.” – Lynda Airey
  • “My daughter was mentally very mature.  She felt like she didn’t fit in. She needed to be around other children who thought the same way she did.” – Shashi Panatpur

Developmental implications

Students who are accelerated will be in classes with children who experience developmental milestones before them.  Classroom peers will likely go through puberty and get their driver’s license before them.  There also can be an impact on sports because they might be physically smaller and less developed than their classroom peers.  Also, many experts warn of the impact on sibling relationships where a child is accelerated into a class with his older peer.  Each of these items should be considered and discussed with the child, with an understanding that issues will continue to appear as the child ages.

  • “We have noticed more changes in middle school because of puberty.  However, we realize that it is an individualized experience — we all hit puberty at different stages anyway.  Athletics has not been an issue for us either.” – Trisha Dubey (her oldest daughter excels at track and field)
  • “It is very important that the child is open with his or her parents.  Build a relationship with the child, so that the child is not bothered when judged by peers.  After all, we in the family know each other best.” – Parul Singh
  • “Each student is unique — depends on the child.  Look at each child individually.  Not just what his or her academic abilities are.  Look at the whole package.” – Maureen Pranske
  • “The teacher needs to be aware of a student’s emotional needs.  If a child is not socially and emotionally ready, and teacher is not able or willing to cater to these needs, it is a disaster waiting to happen.” – Shashi Panatpur

Logistic and academic implications

Acceleration can have implications that impact course structure, course structure, and GPA.    If a student accelerates in Language Arts or Science, his 8th grade class will likely have an innovative structure (ie. blended or virtual learning) because the 9th grade traditional course might not be available at the middle school.  This would obviously impact the hands-on experience of the course and requires cognitive and emotional maturation on the part of the student.  Additionally, there might be high school credit GPA consequences depending on the level of the course.  Currently, online classes are classified as Level 2, Dual Credit are Level 3, GT/AP/IB are Level 4.  Another concern is that a student might simply run out of available class options by the time he reaches his senior year.

On the other hand, there are scheduling advantages to acceleration.  Students who accelerate will have access to additional higher level classes and the option to take additional AP classes or electives in the areas they are passionate about.

There could also be an unintentional emphasis on the race to complete classes instead of obtaining the tools necessary to succeed in life.  According to Maureen Pranske, “Being accelerated, these students don’t always receive the opportunities and support to develop skills and strategies.  Are we focused on developing them as thinkers or is the focus on advanced rigor and product?”

These implications are further complicated by the fact that we are lucky to live in a district that continues to evolve and innovate — the course options and policies currently in place may be significantly different when the accelerated child reaches high school.  It is important to understand that the decision about acceleration today will have far reaching implications throughout your child’s academic career.

4. The decision is made deliberately to fulfill a purpose

“Acceleration keeps them engaged, excited, challenged.  Consider: where you are accelerating them to?” — Lynda Airey

Subject acceleration is typically used as a method to open up more academic options in an area in which a child is passionate (and has already mastered the current content); it can also be an effective tool of eliminating classes which are not a passion to open up more academic options (eg. testing out of a required class so a student can take more than one language arts class during a semester).  The parents that I spoke with all agreed that they saw academic grade/subject acceleration as a necessary step to keeping their child engaged, challenged, and connected.  None of them had any regrets (other than perhaps not taking advantage of this opportunity sooner in their child’s education).  However, they each offered caveats that it is not something for every advanced child.  Consider the options and implications in the decision as it affects your child’s entire academic experience; include your child in the discussion.  For each of these parents, they found that enrichment and other opportunities available were not enough to meet the needs of their child, and that the children have thrived as a result of acceleration.  Does that make these kids better?  No, they are just in need of a different academic path.  They didn’t “skip” any content that they did not otherwise know.  Instead, these students: 1) demonstrated mastery by “testing out;” 2) were motivated with a strong desire to move forward; 3) understood the consequences of the decision; and, 4) had strong support.  Under these circumstance, it would be unfair and unproductive (to the child, his classmates and the teacher) to require a child to sit in a class where he already knows at least 90% of the material that will be taught.  Research, best practices, and the experiences of these parents would suggest that acceleration is worth pursuing when appropriate.

The mission of the Coppell Independent School District, as a committed and proven leader in educational excellence, is to ensure our learners achieve personal success, develop strong moral character, and become dynamic leaders and global citizens with a zeal for service by engaging each individual through innovative learning experiences led by a visionary staff and progressive community.

Often times, designing a learning experience that includes acceleration is a necessary component to ensure that an advanced child achieves personal success.

Want to find out more or share your experiences?
Contact the CISD Director of Advanced Academics, or CISD Director of Assessment, or send CGA an email.

Important links:

For general information on Academic Acceleration, click here to read Part 1.

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