Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Anything but Acceleration!

It's been three years since the Templeton report on acceleration, A Nation Deceived, came out. The report established that all the available evidence supports acceleration (aka "grade skipping") as a cheap, effective educational option for gifted kids. Accelerated kids tend to thrive academically, and there are no negative social consequences that lead accelerated kids and their parents to see the acceleration as a mistake.

Too bad so few education "experts" are actually listening. The Orlando Sentinel's Family Project section ran a Q&A from a parent whose 5-year-old son needed more challenge. Should the child be accelerated? The Family Project panel members "prefer not to see a child moved ahead in school," though all agreed that the parent would have to advocate for her son so he'd get the enrichment he needed.

There's just one problem with that advice. Enrichment may or may not happen. Maybe the parent doesn't have the time or expertise to advocate. Maybe the kid's teachers don't know how to enrich the curriculum. The good thing about acceleration is that if you put the kid in a grade where he's actually challenged by the basic material, you don't have to advocate.

But the panel did not mention this. Instead, they repeated the usual odes to socialization:

"The most important part of kindergarten is peer relationships and that's why panelist Maryellen Blass says she doesn't advocate advancement. 'Enrichment can be very easily integrated into kindergarten,' she says.

"Even very bright children need socialization skills more than anything at this age, panelists say. 'It's important to consider the whole child,' agrees panelist Joanne Nigito-Raftas. 'He is in the process of growing socially. If he's placed where he is academically, you may see effects in middle school when he's not at same place as other kids. It's very hard when a child is developmentally not ready.'"

Last time I looked at a sixth grade class, everyone was in a different place developmentally already. And likewise, unless these panelists socialize only with people born within six months of their birthdays, I'm afraid they don't have much of a case. Humans are social creatures, but we grow socially when we hang out with people we enjoy, and with whom we can interact in meaningful ways. A 5-year-old who wants to discuss the themes of the literature he's reading will not grow socially if he must spend all his time with kids who are just learning their letters. You'd think that educational experts would get that. But apparently not.


Anonymous said...

Early entrance to K or 1st for a gifted child should be a “no-brainer” and may very well be the first step towards an appropriately challenging education. Further whole grade acceleration and/or subject acceleration may also be necessary. Parents and educators do more harm than good by declining this option, both to the child’s socialization and educational success.

Anonymous said...

We met with school officials to get a grade skip into high school for my daughter (who btw *killed* on the SAT as a 7th grader with scores good enough for good colleges). They just didn't want to do it, for social reasons. The county has "programs" for GT students at every level in order to group "peers." Bravo to that. But it works against you when you have a kid who doesn't fit into the boxes of even those accelerated programs. Seems to me, at least anecdotally, that you have better chances of radical acceleration in systems that *don't* have gifted programming in place. Long story short, we're homeschooling this year rather than go to a magnet middle school.

k-man said...

I used to be a gifted child. I was reading real (chapter) books by age 5, and I can't remember a time when I couldn't read. But when I entered first grade, the school system considered grade-skipping but decided not to accelerate me two grades, opting instead to give me third-grade work in addition to, not instead of, my first-grade work. The principal's reasoning was the ever-popular "maturity" and "socialization" excuses.

My parents were never given the exact results of some sort of intelligence test I took around the time I entered school, but comments were made that lead me to believe that my IQ was north of 140. But in the early 1970s parents weren't as prone to ask questions and demand results as they are today. Also, my family was working-class and simply didn't have the options and resources.

A few years later I had problems in school (lost interest) because of a very bad home situation, and the school system simply dropped me from the token enrichment programs I had been in without investigating the reasons for the change in performance. In retrospect, it seems curious that no one looked into the reasons for the change, but perhaps it says something about how much educators really care about their students. There were also ideological issues at work for a lot of gifted students nationwide during the 1970s that need to be addressed another time, but suffice it to say that the corrosive egalitarianism so prevalent now in the public schools was beginning to rear its ugly head even then. (That was also the era when many universities began eliminating or gutting merit-based scholarship programs in favor of other criteria for awarding aid.)

Once some of the home problems sorted themselves out a couple of years later, I did well in school again but the system never attempted to pick up where things had left off. In an official reading test, I read on a 12th-grade level in 6th grade—but by then nothing was being done for me at all. Until I graduated high school, I remained stifled and bored and simply breezed through classes and homework. When I took the SAT in 1980, I simply walked in with no preparation and took it cold and received scores of 670 verbal and 710 math, with a score of 740 on an optional literature section that included writing an essay. Loosely speaking, that last has become the mandatory third part of the SAT.

Once I got into college (university), I realized what kinds of challenges I should have received in public school—but it was too late then. I was tired, stressed, and burned out, and when my financial aid fell through for what would have been my sophomore year in engineering school, it made the decision to drop out far too easy. I haven't set foot in a formal classroom again to this day, 25 years later. Nor is there any interest in doing so.

Not having a bachelor's degree has kept me from achieving the financial goals I used to have, but now that I'm well into my forties, I can't say I care that much. Generally I've been happy in the relatively modest jobs I've had. You have to invest in yourself, true, but when a hostile system chooses not to invest anything at all in its brightest because "all children are gifted" or "it's elitist" or "it might hurt the others' feelings" or "they'll be all right regardless", then it becomes hard for the brightest to care about anything—or themselves.

Two ironies arose: (1) the school system did allow a few others to accelerate some years later, and (2) one of my eighth-grade teachers told me many years later that he could tell I was tired of school when I was in his class.

To this day I have to wonder what might have been different had I been allowed to start in third grade and maintained the two-year difference. But it's all water under the dam now, and many gifted students had it far worse than I did. All there is to say is for parents to keep pushing for acceleration if it seems to be a viable solution.

I used to be a gifted child. But the school system gave my gifts away. And if allowed to, most of them will do the same to your gifted child. Don't let them.

Anonymous said...

My daughter turned 4 last week and will be starting kindergarten in the fall -- but only because I'm willing to homeschool her. She can read a few books right now, and amazes me with a couple of new words she's worked out how to spell and read each day lately. Between that and her sudden interest in sorting out whether numbers are odd or even, adding and subtracting in her head, and constantly throwing around questions like "What sort of chemical reaction would mixing those two things cause?" or "Will that animal survive out of its habitat?", I can't imagine that she would fit in very well in a kindergarten classroom even now, and I can't shut her brain down for a whole year! I did a total hodgepodge of single subject acceleration, gifted program, CTY classes, and early high school graduation, and I just figure that early kindergarten "entrance" has to be an easier approach, even if it does turn out to be a temporary solution.

robin said...

Thanks for alerting us to this article. Actually it represents a shift, although not a large enough on, in that towards the end, one of their panelists mentions a happy two-year skip. I followed the link and tried to post this in response to the article:

I think that article doesn't address the question that the parents ask - what to consider in our situation. I believe I can offer some suggestions.

1) Get an individualised IQ test, preferably SV-5, or if you have one, hire a professional who can sit down with you and explain what it means. Gifted is a very general term. Find out if you are seeing a child who is 1 out of 50 or 1 out of 1000. Does your child appear to be advanced in certian areas or in most areas?

2) Buy, and then read, two books.
1- The Iowa Acceleration Scale Manual
2-Re-Forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child
These books will show you the results of professionals who have studied large numbers of actual kids. You won't have to rely on your neighbor's friends uncle.

3) If you child is "beyond the typical picture of gifted" then stop thinking about Middle School, concentrate on getting the child what they need now. You can always find a way to do something else for a while if the path you are on isn't working out. Most parents of children like this are pleased when a school placement works out well for an entire year!

4) Join your state gifted association and met other families in similar situations.

5) Do not believe that your child's socialization is MORE important than their academic growth. Do not believe that your child's socialization will be BETTER if kept with age peers. Spend some time with your child's age peers, not just their favorite friends. Listen to what they talk about. Ask yourself if your child could "be themselves" with their age peers. Watch your child socalize with older kids. See which setting works best for your individual child. Do keep up any age peer setting that are working for your child, such as sports, or scouts.

6) If acceleration is indicated by the IASM, then pause a minute to reflect if you might be in a position where sports or academic competition might lead to a needed scholarship. If this is the case, look into "subject acceleration" where the child spends some or most of their day with older children, but returns to their agegroup for gym and lunch.
7) Keep in mind that there are no easy answers, and no parent knows what the future will bring. Still, early enterance to K or 1st grade is one of the easiest ways to met a childs academic AND social needs. When folks say - well I am considering the Whole Child, they seem to forget that all humans have a inborn need to learn. Managing boredom is very difficult for all humans, particularly 5 year olds. Experiment by asking the child to sit quietly at home, for 4 hours, doing only tasks that they have already mastered, and without talking to anyone, or trying to get Adult attention. Even if your child is compliant enough to do this for one day, would you really want them to do it for 180 days?

8) The vast majority of gifted kids cluster around the near-normal range of gifted. If you school is offering Enrichment, ask to see some examples, because it is likely aimed at this majority. If you child is fits right in with this near-normal range, then the Enrichment is likely to work. If they are in a different part of the range, then the Enrichment is unlikely to work, without one or more gradeskips. So you see, finding out where on the range of gifted your child is likely to be really matters. I am going to generalize here, but most school folks don't have enough years of experience to have a deep understanding of this range of giftedness. We are talking about really small numbers of people. Many parents of more gifted children are already homeschooling or schooling outside of the public system. Do not be overly impressed with generalized assurances. Get specific and detailed. Keep asking for definitions of the school words they throw around. Do as much homelearning with your child as it takes so that you can sit in your school's kindergarden classroom and first grade classroom and know if there is anything there for your child to learn.
There is lots of places on the internet to ask more questions. One I like is

Best Wishes,

Bryan Evans said...

Grade acceleration is one of those debates that will probably last a lifetime. As a teacher, I have worked with several kids who have been grade accelerated. I have seen it work, and I have seen it not work. For those who it has not worked for, I think it has more to due with the fact that the child shouldn't have been accelerated to begin with. These are children who are above average, but not gifted, yet the parents push for the grade acceleration anyway. Socially, some were fine, some struggled. But that's true even for kids who haven't been grade accelerated.

The real question is, what is best for the child? If a school program can adequately enrich the education of a child, as well as be in a class with other similarly enriched children, would that be best? In this case, the child would "learn more in the same amount of time" as their typical same-age peers. Those who are grade accelerated "learn the same in a shorter amount of time." I personally prefer the former option. Let the kid stay a kid, but also help him/her develop academically as much as possible. Unfortunately, very few school systems have the necessary resources to develop such a program. Grade acceleration, as you say in your blog post, is cheap, as well as easy, but I don't think it is always the best option. I would use it only if nothing else were available, which sadly, is generally the case.

Anonymous said...

Enrichment and ability grouping should be offered to all students since most schools offer curricula that are well below the challenge level for half the population. Parents should be allowed to early entrance their GIFTED children without the “debate”. Further acceleration may take more consideration, especially after elementary school. This should ideally be a collaborative decision amongst the student, parents and school. Subject acceleration is extremely desirable and absolutely necessary to develop the potential of our brightest kids.

None of these methods require substantial additional funding. They do require a shift in thought from classroom convenience to an appropriate education for all.

nbosch said...

I posted a comment yesterday and it never showed up---is this site moderated? Is my comment "stuck" somewhere?

Anonymous said...

There are so many views on how best to educate an average child, let alone a gifted child. When gifted children are such a small number, yet with such individual differences, who really have enough actual experience to come up with THE way to do the "best" for a particular gifted child?

As a parent, with my own baggage of having been brought up by ill-informed teachers and parents of my days, I have been in a constant frenzy to find out and implement the "best" education for my own gifted daughter. So she started school a year early, benefits from every extension and enrichment opportunity, including some that were not previously available, in the private school, and she gets to "realise her potentials" and shine academically and musically. A text book version of gifted education, probably.

Yet, things don't feel right. My daughter's assignments get more and more complex, and expectations from everyone including herself get higher and higher. It is not enough to win most of the contests again this year, her performances have to be more spectacular than last year. If they are, her parents must have done the work, sent her to private tuition, showered the teachers with presents, or all of the above. If they aren't, she must be burning out; her parents must have finally managed to push her over the edge...

I have started doubting whether I have actually made my daughter's life unnecessarily difficult for her, as a result of early school entry and all that advocacy. On some occasions when she is not coping socially or reacting to incidents immaturely, my feeling of guilt is beyond description, for I was the one who had decided on early school entry for her, despite the reservations of all those people who had foretold of difficulties arising from social and emotional immaturity. It's like I set my own daughter up for social failure.

So people who advocate for acceleration including early school entry have the best intentions for gifted children like my daughter. Those people who worry about social adjustment of accelerated gifted children also have the best intentions for them. Parents like myself who follow the advice of gifted education experts and made advocacy a consuming part of their parenting life also have the best intentions for their gifted children.

So how comes it hasn't felt right? If it still isn't right, is the answer less advocacy and more "normalised" education, or is the answer even more individualised education, full-time gifted classes, or homeschooling?? My head spins.

robin said...

Hi Mom who posted:
There are so many views on how best to educate an average child, let alone a gifted child.

I don't know if you actually were up posting at 4:31am, but I do get the feeling that you don't have many other Parents around that have BTDT, and I wish that all of us facing these tough decisions had lots and lots of local F2F support. We aren't there yet...but I like thinking about it.

All parents face self-doubt, but we gifted ones have a special form of perfectionism that I am calling "Dissonance." We can see so much farther than we can accomplish - and we do want things to be just right! We can be very unrealistic about how hard things are to accomplish IRL. (In Real Life) We want everything to be easy, or at least reasonably easy. Is this starting to sound familiar?

You mentioned all the pressure you are feeling as people make their various thoughtless comments, but how is your daughter actually doing? How does she feel about the complexity of the assignments? Perhaps temporarily she does need to decelerate, or have fewer commitments - asynchronous development means that she will be many ages at once, and you are trying not to overlook any part of her. Do her eyes still sparkle? Does she have a topic she is self-motivated in.

Once I was proclaiming, in ringing tones - "Every Child deserves to be Challenged!"
and a wise friend answered back - "Every Child deserves to be thought about well."

I don't think that any of us parents will get it 100% right for our gifted kids, or even more than 51% right, the raw materials don't exist yet. But I do think we have the capasity to "think well" about our children - try things - and keep checking to see what's working. Keep talking to your daughter, and listening - together you will figure things out.


Anonymous said...

When I was a child my parents were told "we don't want to skip her grades because that would take her out of her peer group". They failed to notice (or care) that I didn't have a "peer group" and preferred to socialize with adults or older children anyway. A few years later when they noticed that my social problems were affecting my behavior, they sent me to the guidance office for "friendship counseling". Now that I'm raising gifted children, I homeschool.

Test said...

Robin, Where can I get more information on the SV-5 test ?