Monday, January 02, 2006

A Nation Deceived, One Year Later

In late 2004, the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa released the report "A Nation Deceived" showing how educational research supported accelerating gifted students. Written by experts Nicholas Colangelo, Susan Assouline and Miraca Gross, the report was designed to convince mainstream educators that skipping grades wouldn't cause children to became wounded psychopaths, wouldn't require anyone to stop worshipping that golden calf of "socialization" and would help kids learn better, to boot. (These are my words ... this is a serious academic report...).

A year later, the authors released a follow-up survey, which you can find in PowerPoint form here.

Let's just say the authors are a little tough on themselves. Of the 2500 respondents who were interested in the topic, 50% said the report had no noticeable impact. More said the report was not changing policies and procedures regarding acceleration in a positive direction than said it was. And while a majority said the report had a positive impact on educators in the field of gifted education, only 1% said it had a strong positive impact on educators outside the field.

The problem with this, of course, is that it does little good to have the gifted coordinator who travels between three schools conducting pull-out programs think acceleration is swell. You need the teacher of a gifted third grader to think it's a good solution, and the teacher of the fifth grade class where she'll be moving to, to accept it as well.

Advocates for gifted education are up against a tough wall here. A surveyed parent commented that she presented the findings to her son's district only to hear "Well, I'm sure there is just as much evidence against acceleration if we looked."

So what's to be done? Research alone can't change minds when educators have stuck in their heads the tale of "one child" who skipped a grade years ago and was miserable.

Families who've accelerated a child and had a good experience need to share their stories too. We need to trumpet these tales in the popular media. We need to talk about them at teachers colleges and conventions and portray grade skipping as a cheap way to meet kids' needs while lessening the headaches on teachers (dealing with vast differences in skill levels is tougher than dealing with a little difference in age). These stories will also help parents who wonder what to do for their kids, but fret that acceleration will harm them.

If anyone has some good stories of acceleration, please share!


satchmom said...

Just wanted to comment about acceleration. My son is 9 years old and should be in 4th grade. We accelerated him after 2nd grade into a 5-8 classroom (he goes to a very small private school). Academically, there is no question that we did the right thing. He could not have stayed where he was. He was coming to expect that everything he encountered should be done without any effort and when he faced a challenge, he fell apart. The 5th grade year was rough emotionally because he was not used to stretching himself at all. Additionally, the curriculum is approached the same for all grades though some slightly lowered standards for the 5th graders. In other words, there was an even bigger jump than normal. We did make it, however. This year he is in sixth grade and is finding the process much easier. The positives are many. He is given the opportunity to work at his level. He is in 8th grade math and his reading, writing and information synthesizing capabilities have dramatically improved. So much more is expected from him and he does rise to the occasion. He is facing hard situations and overcoming them and finding there is self-esteem that comes from that. There are challenges, too. The biggest is his struggle with organization. Because it is a 5-8 classroom, the teacher is trying to get her students ready for high school. They must keep track of numerous papers, projects, timelines, etc. My son struggles with this. We are working overtime trying to get him organized in a way that makes sense to him. I don't know whether this is purely his personality or whether it is something that has yet to develop. The other challenge (especially for us as parents), is the gravitation to the older kids. He is fascinated with their dress, music, and pre-teen issues even though he is only 9. Again, we struggle because perhaps we aren't ready for him to "grow up so fast". Of course, as parents, you always struggle with the questions about doing the right thing for your kids. Looking back, we definately did the right thing. We really had no other choice. Again, it is always a day to day challenge when your kid doesn't "fit in that box" of what "normal" kids do. For him, acceleration was the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Radical acceleration has helped so much... I can't even describe the positive effects on our daughter and family. She's bloomed in every way possible after only one semester in high school.

She's nine year old and completely blowing the expectations curve for everyone up through seniors. She started this semester by recreating the digs at Olduvai Gorge (complete with modeling clay skullbones and obsidian Oldewan tools) and gave a presentation to an entire class of high schoolers. Then she created a period playbill of a Shakespeare play- and the teacher was stunned. She's doing 150% of a normal load- and thriving.

Her social skills and confidence have greatly increased, as has her perception of the heights of work she can do. Since she's in school I have a real life of my own as well. What's not to love? Well, there was the day when she heard about prom and asked if mom could take her...and I do get tickled by the automated calls from the school suggesting she sign up for driver's ed.

So please let the authors know that their work helped me decide to advocate for this choice and the outcomes are astounding.

As for sharing the story, though, I have to do it through the educators since my daughter is a very private person and has no desire to "be a lab specimen."

(Also, hello to you, Laura, from one of the parents you interviewed for Genius Denied. Just in case you're wondering how things went for these kiddos...)

Laura Vanderkam said...

Good! I'm glad to hear things are working out for Genius Denied families (books are always a frozen snapshot in time... and children are not).

Will said...

I have trouble with the term "acceleration". Students, especially at the pre-high school ages, need to be taught at the highest level they are capable of. The biggest reason for homeschool success is that if you have an 11 year old who is ready for algebra, but spelling at a 5th grade level, you can teach them algebra and 5th grade spelling.

The public education system of grouping all students together simply because of their age is dated and not what is best for learning.

Anonymous said...

After reading NATION DECEIVED and getting our son tested, we went to his Principal and gave him a copy of the report and asked that our son be allowed to "skip" 2nd grade. It has been the absolute best thing that has happened to him in a long time. He is happy, and enjoys going to school this year. He has a teacher that skipped a grade in grade school and she really "gets" him and has helped tremendously in his adjustment. The work is still below his level but he is not utterly bored and enjoys being with kids a little more like him on an intellectual level. Acceleration again might be in his future and I would definitely let him again if he and/or the school felt it would work.

Anonymous said...

"A Nation Deceived" challenged my own ideas on education. I had refused to consider "grade skipping" for my 2nd grade son. However, this year I realized we had to do something. Our "gifted" program is a 1 hour a week pull-out program and would take my son out of his only art class. After speaking with our principal and sharing what I had learned from "A Nation Deceived" and how the book had challenged my thinking, he immediately went in to action. He spoke with a third grade teacher that he felt would be an excellent match for my son. She was excited about the opportunity. Our public school has never "grade skipped". Six weeks later and my son is excelling in the 3rd grade. He is at the top of his class and has many close friends. He does struggle somewhat with organization, but so do I.:) It took a couple of weeks for him to get caught up with the work the other students had been working on for the previous 3 months- but his teacher feels he has filled in all the gaps at this time. --Now, our principal is considering "grade skipping" with other students. I believe "A Nation Deceived" encourages one to think logically about these decisions rather than reacting emotionally.

Anonymous said...

I am currently going through the process of 'acceleration' for my son. Even though we live in a state with gifted mandates, it has been a long, drawn out process of waiting. After finally getting my son tested and 'qualified' for gifted resources, his school offered a once a week, one hour class with children of all ages and abilities. Because we were nearing the end of his 1st grade year, we were happy with this small step forward. We moved him to a "gifted" school for his 2nd grade year, where he is in a mixed ability and split 2nd/3rd grade class. Now as half his school year is gone, and he has been completing 3rd grade curriculum with an A average, I again have approached his teacher, guidance counselor, and principal with my request for further advancement. Like a previous post, my son is simply doing the work, with little or no effort because its too easy. Now, I envision the next long, drawn out process of "proving" not only that he is capable of doing work in a higher grade, but also of convincing the administration that he not be allowed to coast through curricula.
Thank you for your hard work and insight in regards to the challenges, discrimination and the wonderful highlights of the children who are benefiting from the advocacy of "acceleration" in its many forms.

Sfireblue said...

Looking back it would have been a good idea if both our kids had been accelerated. Our daughter was in the "GATE" program (why all these acronyms?) in elementary school and her third grade teacher suggested she skip fourth grade. Fearing she might then be far behind and struggling we felt uncomfortable with the idea; parents too fall into the trap of relishing their children's perfect grades! Furthermore there was no explanation by school about the implication of intellectual giftedness and I did not become knowledgeable about it until our daughter was 12! That was way too late and she has paid the price for it with depression and dropping out of school in 10th grade.

Our son's intellectually giftedness showed in kindergarten, but again we were not told about the implication. He should have/could have gone into first grade but since he enjoyed being in kindergarten we never really considered it an option.

Fast forward to him now at 18 in his last semester of high school. Before Christmas he seriously considered quitting school despite a stellar GPA, and doing the GED exam instead. School for him too has been too easy and uninteresting. Both my children say they found school to be an enormous waste of their time!

Even so, I am hopeful that without the acceleration they will still do fine in their lives. My daughter has regained her love for learning and is now a college junior majoring in philosophy with a minor in environmental studies. The most important thing gifted children need is to get unwavering support from their parents and a true understanding (and especially the empathy) of what life is like for them as gifted individuals.

Laura Vanderkam said...

I bet it happens in a number of districts that as soon as one child had a *good* experience with acceleration, the school will be far more open to accelerating the next child. Of course, it's a ton of work for that first family. But maybe more families can think of the time they spend pushing for acceleration as an investment -- almost a donation to other families of gifted kids.

Anonymous said...

I read all the stories,interesting,my daughter is 6 yrs old and she is in first grade, she is supposed to be in kindergarten but becuase of some family reasons, I requested her school and they gave her a test and said she is ready, now her readining level is close to 4th grade and she is reading chronicals of Narnia. May be this is a wrong Q to ask here. How do I know whether she is gifted or not, do you recommend any websites or tests that would help us. I don't want to push her but at the same time if she is gifted, I would like to help her in the right way.

Davidson Institute said...

Hello -

In response to the questions posted by Anonymous on Jan. 18, I would encourage you to visit the Parents’ page on Genius Denied: You may also wish to explore our online searchable database, GT CyberSource at Here you will find thousands of resources for and about gifted students, their parents, and the professionals who work with them, including resources on characteristics. I encourage you to visit the Resources and Articles pages and select “Characteristics” from the Identification category.

Also, I highly recommend the article, “A Place To Start: Is My Child Gifted?” at This full text article summarizes a variety of views on why and when to seek an assessment, the utility of different types of tests, and questions for parents to consider. There are links for additional articles on assessment, which discuss the implications of testing for educational advocacy and planning. Lastly, links to information on the most recent versions of the popular individually administered tests are provided.

I hope you find this information useful.

Warm regards,
Crissa Haynes
Family Consultant
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Anonymous said...

I also downloaded a copy of A Nation Deceived and it has done wonders for not only my son but for other children in his class, if not the whole school! The report, which I gave to my son's gifted teacher, gave her the courage to go to the county's gifted coordinator. The gifted coordinator then contacted the principal, who then reversed her position about accelerating students. The result? My son now has acceleration, curriculum compacting and differentiated instruction written into his IEP which also now calls for a four grade acceleration over the next two years! And he's not the only one. The now "empowered" teacher, who is the gifted team leader for the school, is now spearheading single subject acceleration between the gifted classes for those students who need a real challenge in a specific subject. Changes may not be happening fast, or on a national level, but they are happening!