Sunday, February 11, 2007

Georgia Tries Acceleration

I've been hearing some sad stories about gifted education programs in Georgia lately from parents. So I'm pleased to read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the easiest, cheapest form of gifted education -- acceleration -- is increasingly on the table. You can read the story here.

While few school districts downright forbid acceleration, they often use it only when parents insist, or when a kid moves to the district and there's no clear record of what he/she was doing before. Even in these cases, the parents often face alarmist stories about "one child" who was accelerated years ago and was consequently screwed up for the rest of his/her life. That's too bad because, as the recent report A Nation Deceived showed, acceleration is not only good for kids academically, it's fine for them socially, too. If "one child" was harmed by it at some point in the mythical past, there are 10 kids who are being harmed more by leaving them in the grades that their birthdates sentence them to.

According to the AJC article, a Georgia panel last year recommended that districts consider acceleration in their guidelines, and noted the "unequivocal" benefits. Ohio, the article also notes, recently required its 600 school systems to create policies saying how kids can go about skipping grades (for instance, the Iowa Acceleration Scale gives parents and teachers an idea of what grade a child is ready for). Since acceleration is cheap, effective, and doesn't share the political baggage of so much of gifted education (that it's a "special" program, or a reward, and therefore should be bestowed upon all motivated children regardless of actual intelligence), this is good news all around.


Kelly said...

What is frustrating is that even with the Georgia DOE's "Gifted Education Subcommittee Report," which cites the unequivical gains made by students who are allowed early entrance or grade-skipping, the GA DOE still has policy requiring a child to be 5 by September 1 to enter kindergarten, and 6 by September 1 to enter 1st grade. Additionally, the AJC article paints a rosier picture of the state of acceleration in DeKalb that what I have experienced in my efforts to have my son accelerated. I am the mom of Blake Kaufman, and my efforts have met with a great deal of resistance. DeKalb officials are offended when I tell them that "educators have a bias against acceleration" but fail to see that there is little else to call it when they've read the research and should know that there are no negative effects socially or emotionally. Still, they persist in thinking "we must move forward very carefully." As a result, I was told that they would only consider skipping Blake if he scored at the 99th percentile on both the CoGat and the ITBS (thinking, I suspect, that he'd be unable to clear this hurdle and I would then go away).

Blake made those scores, but then when I requested that they move forward with the acceleration process the Director of Gifted Services told me that we could not do that until they set policy (which has been a year in the making and isn't set yet). I had to go back to the Deputy Superintendent and cite emails clearly stating that we were just waiting on test scores to move forward.

The county also told me that charter schools are not required to provide gifted services in the state of GA, and given that it was their director of charter services who told me this, I foolishly believed it. It took a year and a call to the state DOE (made after another person at the county told me the DOE had a blanket policy prohibiting acceleration) to learn that this was not true. The county also ordered the charter school to move my son back to 1st grade after the principal had skipped him to 2nd, based upon Blake's private test scores and his teacher's recommendations, and well as Blake's wishes. I was only informed of this decision after the fact, which suggested to me that my son's best interests were not necessarily at the forefront of their minds. When my son was ordered back to 1st the county cited "policy" as their rationale, but when I was asked to see this policy I was then told that it wasn't formal policy yet (so why was it used to make a decision) and that as such I couldn't see it. I eventually did get to see the policy after the deputy superintendent offered to let me join in the focus group on acceleration (everyone else I had asked had told me no, because they were wrapping up their decision, but the participants were strictly by invite only and I didn't know that such a group existed until later). I opted originally not to tell this in the newspaper story because I didn't want to embarrass the county, but I've since concluded that people should know so that they know what we are up against in the fight to obtain an appropriate education for our children.

Blake still has not been accelerated, and I wonder why the county is clinging to their misconceptions about acceleration damaging gifted children. I agree that the effectsof non-acceleration are much more damaging, after watching my son go from a happy and interested child to one who pleaded with me to homeschool him and suddenly felt ill much more often. Things are better since we changed schools, but he still isn't being challenged adequately.

I hope the recent media attention on this issue will increase scrutiny of this issue, and force the county to make decisions about who may be considered for acceleration that are based in research and not in fear.

Parents who are going through this process and would like to contact me may do so at


Anonymous said...

We are also in Georgia. Our 2 older children were allowed subject accelerations only.

Two different educational psychologists here in Atlanta have separately advised us that there are no available options for our daughter. This echoes what we've seen -- our local public schools refuse even to consider testing until the child is in 2nd grade; the private schools tell us either (1) all students are gifted (and I agree all students have unique gifts, but that's a different statement), or (2) some schools would offer a pull-out program where our daughter would be studying at her own pace -- by herself. This latter option obviates the purpose for our putting her in any school, since at this point the primary benefit would be the opportunity to socialize (and she would not be socializing with others if she were working on her own, which I suspect would succeed mainly in teaching her how different she is -- a lesson which truly doesn't need enforcement).

We are homeschooling. Our 4yo daughter is enrolled in a community program as a gifted 1st grader. She is working at various levels up to 5th grade in some subjects.

I can appreciate the difficulty that schools face when trying to accommodate highly gifted students -- there isn't enough of a population for most individual schools to offer a specialized program, and even acceleration may not be the ideal solution in the long term, since gifted kids can continue to accelerate.

But what I don't understand is the denial that these kids have different needs and developmental paths (which, by the way, begin before 2nd grade). Just acknowledging this simple truth could lead to appropriate solutions, which do not need to be expensive.

Homeschooling is working for us. Still, it would be great if my daughter had some regular opportunities to be with kids like her -- or, could just be offered validation and support that is appropriate for her. That is no different than what is expected for every child. To be met, instead, with complete denial, as well as to be met with automatic suspicion, social myths, confusion, and sometimes outright hostility -- this is a problem.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Georgia student who, with much effort from by brilliant parents, was able to skip the eighth grade after taking the ACT through the Duke University TIP. With programs like TIP, I'm surprised we don't see more progress with grade acceleration. I'm living proof a seventh-going-on-eighth grader can handle the social and academic stress of accelerating to high school without the preparation and coaching given to my peers during the final year of middle school. My only regret is I know of no other Georgians who have skipped a grade and feel alone in that respect. I feel like it is an awkward, embarrassing subject in conversation and try to avoid bringing it up. I know it's nothing to be ashamed of- if anything, I should be proud to be the youngest freshman to ever attend my school- but it's like I have a big neon sign proclaiming, "Here she is! The weirdo brainiac who thinks she's better than you!" We tried home "public cyberschhooling" in the sixth grade, but I sorely missed the social interaction of a brick-and-mortar school environment. I just wish there were more kids like me, who understand why skipping a grade is such a challenge. I'm not defective, I'm not "mature for my age", I'm not a psychopath (some kids at school actually believe that!), I'm not "supposed to be an eighth grader", I just learn at a faster pace than my peers.