Papers on the topic, acceleration within in the school system, have had two very distinct arguments. There are those who believe that accelerating students, enhances their psychological welfare and academic achievements. On the other hand there are those who raise concerns as to whether, accelerating students does negatively affect them in some dimension. The aim of this paper is to give an overview of acceleration in relation to the educational setting, and to discuss the impact (both negative and positive) that acceleration has on the lives of students. I will discuss how and why students are identified as gifted and or talented, and what consequences arise from this label, if any. The essay will then proceed to offer types of programs available for gifted and or talented students in schools. This paper will focus on the various impacts acceleration has on students. Some discussion will be rendered as to the effect on the parents of accelerated students. My conclusions will be derived from the various arguments and research that will be presented throughout the essay.
From the introduction we are led to the question, of what actually is acceleration? Davis and Rimm (1994) state that “any strategy that results in advanced placement or credit may be titled as acceleration”(p. 106). Acceleration is the act of advancing students into grades higher than their year of enrolment allows. The Board of Studies guidelines for accelerated progression (1991), define acceleration as involving, “the promotion of a student to a level of study beyond that which is usual for his/her age” (p.3). Rice (1970) has also defined it as a “rapid acquisition of knowledge and skills” (p. 178).
These definitions of acceleration, especially the one offered by the Board of Studies, closely align Harrison (1995) who describes a gifted child as:
One who performs or who has the ability to perform at a level significantly beyond his or her chronologically aged peers and whose unique abilities and characteristics require special provisions and social and emotional support from the family, community and educational context (p. 19).
This definition takes into account the socio-emotional support that gifted children require when identified as gifted or talented. Harrison (1995) further recognises that this support does not come solely from the parents or the school but the community as well. The Board of Studies guidelines for accelerated progression (1991) distinguishes between giftedness and talent as follows:
Gifted students as those with the potential to exhibit superior performance across a range of areas of endeavour, and ‘talented’ students as those with the potential to exhibit superior performance in one area or another (p. 3).
How then are certain students singled out from the rest as being gifted and or talented, and placed in acceleration programs? What benchmarks and tests do educators use to classify individuals for ‘acceleration’ programs?
It could be argued that early identification of the gifted or talented child is essential for reasons such as, ‘the provision of appropriate learning experiences, determining appropriate educational provisions and also developing understanding and a sense of belonging’ (Harrison, 1995, p. 49). Harrison (1995) also claims that children can be classified as gifted or in three areas. The first area is physical development, whereby gifted children reach physical development milestones sooner than their same age peers. Secondly, cognitive development, where combinations of factors such as alertness, advanced play behaviour, exceptional memory, rapid pace of learning, mathematical ability and probing questions are all deemed to be highly developed. The final area is language development, where signs of highly developed language include early speech, interest in the sound of language, the use of complex sentences and extensive vocabulary and finally, creating rhymes and stories. Having discussed characteristics of gifted and talented behaviour it becomes useful to determine how educators select students for acceleration programs.
Research has demonstrated that the most common test for determining whether a child is gifted or talented is by means of an IQ test. IQ tests have been highly criticised as a means of testing true academic ability and intelligence. Several researchers argue that IQ tests are, “an inadequate predictor of a child’s future achievement in the world, . . . it correlates with only a narrow range of human abilities” (McCleland, 1973; Wallach, 1976;Sternberg, 1991, 1994, cited in Tannenbaum, 1997, p. 32). A more comprehensive selection method is advocated by Rice (1970) who recommends the use of a checklist containing aspects such as, teachers judgements, evidence of high level performance, high motivational skills and also includes high test scores. One other method of identifying gifted and talented children is through the use of anecdotal records. As Harrison (1995) suggests in her research:
The recording of dated examples of early vocabulary, developmental milestones, interesting incidents and examples of exceptional ability during the child’s development, can provide a comprehensive indication of giftedness (p. 55).
Certain factors, other than academic achievement or brilliance also have to be taken into consideration when determining whether a child is gifted or talented. For example, a child who has been brought up in a third world country, who does not have access to modern technology or sufficient education, may not show giftedness in the same dimension as a child reared in the western world, whom has access to devices such as maths books and computers. The child in the third world country may demonstrate advanced learning in domestic areas, and learn to be independent from their parents at an early age. Just because some ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ children do not posses high degrees of mathematical and linguistic skills does not make them any less gifted or talented than their academic counterparts. However, once the criterion for gifted behaviour has been recognised, the research literature demonstrates the effectiveness of accelerative strategies.
The most common types of student are firstly, early entrance to kindergarten and secondly grade skipping. Davis and Rimm (1994) propose that children be entered into kindergarten or first grade early to accommodate their high enthusiasm, curiosity, imagination and their intellectual needs. Grade skipping, where a child simply skips a whole year of school to match their academic ability. Braggett (1985) further identified four main types of acceleration options. These are:
1. Traditional grade skipping.
2. Jumping a grade in stages during a particular year.
3. Catering for individual rates of progression by offering a range of enrichment and acceleration options.
4. Completing a differentiated curriculum in a shortened time.
(Braggett, 1985, cited in Eales & Paoli, 1991, p.140).
It is not sufficient to only have special programs for gifted and talented children. They also need diverse curricula developed for their specific needs. VanTassel-Baska (1997) supports this statement by stating that “gifted learners have different needs compared with typical learners. Therefore, curriculum must be adapted or designed to accommodate these needs” (p. 126). Davis and Rimm (1994) propose a curriculum for gifted and talented students, which focuses on the maximum achievement in basic skills, high content complexity, the development of thinking skills, motivational development and the experiences in creative thinking and problem solving. VanTassel-Baska (1997) suggests a further model for a specific curriculum for educating gifted and talented students, termed the “integrated curriculum model” (p.128). This model consists of three interrelated aspects, these are firstly, emphasising advanced content knowledge, secondly, providing higher order thinking and finally, processing and focussing learning experiences around ideas that define both real world applications and relevant theories. When designing curriculum for gifted and talented students, educators not only have to develop and implement a wide range of teaching and learning strategies, they also have to strive constantly to challenge both students problem solving and cognitive skills. Having discussed model programs for educating gifted and talented children the research literature leads us to the impact that being gifted or talented has on both the socio-emotional development and the academic grades attained by gifted and talented children.
Acceleration has arguments raised both for and against accelerating students through education. I will firstly discuss the positive outcomes relating to the accelerating of gifted and talented students. Eales and Paoli’s (1991) research regarding academic achievement, identifies that, “numerous studies have found that accelerated students have been more successful than their non-accelerated peers”(p. 143) they further claim:
Accelerated students . . . achieve more in school and in their life’s work; their mental health compares favourably with non-accelerants of equal ability and their social and family life exceeds average expectations’ (p. 141).
Eales and Paoli (1991) also suggest that, “exceptionally able students suffer from boredom and disenchantment with secondary education through being held back to the learning pace of their more ordinary peers”(p. 141). Results from a study by Thomas (1993) on the Academic Talent Search support Eales and Paoli’s theory, by alleging that the participants studied, reported high academic achievement.
There are also positive outcomes relating to gifted and talented students social and emotional development. Pollins (1991) in her research regarding the socio-emotional effects on accelerated students discovered that, ‘acceleration . . . revealed no identifiable negative effects’ (p. 160). Sayler and Brookshire (1993) support Pollins’ research when they state that, ‘students in gifted classes had better perceptions of their social relationships and emotional development . . . than regular students’ (p. 150). Further evidence to support the notion that students do not suffer emotionally due to acceleration develops from Brody and Benbow’s (1987) study of the mathematically precocious youth. Brody and Benbow (1987) report that, ‘ . . . for a group of highly gifted students . . . social and emotional adjustment were considered, and no discernible negative effects of various accelerative strategies were found’ (p. 105). From the evidence presented, one would presume that acceleration causes no negative effects to both academic results and to socio-emotional adjustment. Literature presented by further researchers suggests otherwise.
Southern and Jones (1992) offer reasons for the negative outcomes of ‘acceleration’ on gifted and talented children, when they state that, “in some accelerative options, students will leave a regular high school course and enrol in one where the demand and competition is much greater” (p. 37). If this is the case, then students who are at the top of the class and to coin a phrase ‘ruling the roost’ academically, may find themselves in the bottom half of the new acceleration program. It would take a considerable effort for a child to work his/her way up the ladder in the new school setting. A further example of gifted and talented students underachieving is offered by Rimm and Lovance (1992) when they state that gifted and talented students, “would rather make excuses and not participate than take the risk of losing or finding themselves not as intelligent as others perceive them to be” (p. 10). But what of gifted and talented students in regular schools?
VanTassel-Baska (1986) offer us a reason for acceleration programs being unsuccessful in average schools by claiming, “acceleration goes against the current organisational structure of schools, which are geared to average students” (p. 189). Rice (1970) points out further problems with acceleration, including over emphasis of peer group identifications, transitory loss of intellectual interests and insecurity related to the adolescent period. The final area of focus for the negative outcomes of acceleration lies within the domain of the classroom educator. For an accelerated student to succeed, the acceleration program must be embraced wholly, both at the school level and by the teachers who implement it. As Rimm and Lovance (1992) state, “a teacher who does not believe in acceleration may slow the adjustment process for the accelerated child and may even prevent adjustment during that school year” (p. 11). If the adjustment process is slowed down then this must surely have some detrimental affect to the student’s education. Having highlighted the negative effects that acceleration has on gifted and talented students, it is appropriate to present research on how acceleration can affect the parents of gifted and talented students.
Harrison (1995) suggests that raising a child whom is gifted and talented can be both a source of joy and tribulation, leading to confusion and concern regarding the giftedness of the child. She further writes that parents of gifted children are “reluctant to discuss the behaviour and development of their young gifted child with others”(p. 95). This apparent fear and reluctance to talk about their gifted child could only lead to more confusion, due to their evident segregation from the lack of support from friends and other relatives. One final quote from Harrison (1995) highlights the needs of parents of gifted and talented children when she states that, “parents of young children who are gifted can also benefit from informed and sensitive support from educators, friends and family and can receive comfort and reassurance from other parents of children who are gifted” (p. 100).
After presenting research on both acceleration and gifted and talented students and highlighting the complexity of the subject, I believe that gifted and talented children do require special programs and curriculum, also extreme care and duress should be taken when identifying children as gifted and talented. I also suspect that some average students would benefit from some of the teaching and learning methods employed for gifted and talented students. To conclude I will briefly recap the main arguments of the essay. I started off by defining acceleration, and then presented evidence for the criteria for both selecting and identifying gifted and talented children. I then presented arguments both for and against acceleration, and finally discussed some of the dilemmas that face the parents of gifted and talented children. I will finish with one final quote from VanTassel-Baska (1986) regarding acceleration states that, “it improves the motivation, confidence, and scholarship of gifted students” (p.189).
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