When students are ready for next year’s content and thinking, we should move them ahead. This is called acceleration and is a best-practice in education.
How Most Folks Implement Acceleration
Acceleration can mean skipping a whole grade, but most folks implement acceleration on a subject-specific level.
- Judy is in 4th grade, but her pre-assessments show that she’s ready for next year’s math. She goes to Mr. Ramirez’s 5th-grade class for math.
- Midge and Juan are ready for a novel study, but the rest of the 2nd-grade class is not. Midge and Juan travel to Mrs. Chan’s 4th-grade class during this part of the day. Then they return.
Simple. Cheap. Minimal extra work for teachers. We didn’t have to buy a new program, we didn’t have to send teachers to a special training camp, we didn’t have to create all new lessons. All we need are teachers who are willing to help kids. If you don’t have teachers at your school who are willing to help kids, then you have a different problem to solve before you try acceleration!
But, Yes, Kids Can Skip A Grade
I skipped a bunch of my year-one college courses because I took so many AP classes. We celebrate those high school graduates who enter college as sophomores. They proved they could do it by passing their AP exams. We can do the same for much younger students.
I taught 6th grade and once had a student skip 5th grade and enter my classroom. She was incredible. A joy to teach. The big problem? No one at our school received any training on how to deal with her.
Teachers, Parents, and Administrators Need A Plan
The principal ok’d this student’s whole-grade acceleration… and then disappeared. I had no administrative support. The other teachers gossiped about my student. Her old friends didn’t hang out with her. I struggled to introduce her to her new classmates. Her mom was worried.
Now, the kid was fine (I swear she could have skipped on to 7th grade and been fine), but our program was terrible!
By the end of the year it was all under control, but just a simple “all the stakeholders should read this (free!) book” would have solved our problems.
Everyone involved should have a plan when accelerating.
Some people have a weirdly strong negative reaction to the idea of students moving at an appropriate pace. Often they knew a random person who had a bad experience or they saw a nerdy grade-skipper on a TV show who got picked on.
Those are quite literally the most common arguments I’ve heard against acceleration. In fact, they were my own arguments against acceleration before I experienced teaching a student who skipped a grade.
But My Uncle!
Yes, I used my own uncle’s bad experience with acceleration as evidence against the practice. Luckily, we don’t make educational decisions based on random anecdotes. See, his acceleration was done very poorly. No one was on board, he had an unusual home life, and it was back in the 1960s.
Using him as a reason not to accelerate is like saying you won’t eat pizza because the one pizza you tried twenty years ago (which was undercooked in a microwave) was gross. But that wasn’t really pizza, just as my uncle’s experience wasn’t really acceleration.
We can’t rely on random anecdotes to argue for or against policy.
But Grade-Skippers Are Doomed To Be Tiny Nerds!
TV shows and movies like to show us that kids who skip a grade are tiny and nerdy and get beat up every day. They have no friends and only their calculator understands them.
Luckily, we don’t make educational decisions based on pop-culture portrayals. Kids who are ready for next year’s thinking are also ready to hang out with kids a year older than them. My own student who skipped a grade had no problem talking with kids a year older than her. In fact, she probably had more trouble socializing with her age-level peers.
Lots of Evidence
Want to know why acceleration is a best-practice? There has been tons of research into whether it works or not. Yes, beyond those random anecdotes everyone has.
The document A Nation Empowered reports on research into acceleration. It’s free to download as a PDF or you can order hard-copies.
The National Association for Gifted Children has these acceleration policy guidelines.
Here’s a summary from Johns-Hopkins’ findings:
These articles are a small sample of the research that has been done at Hopkins, and the results have answered the question “Is acceleration harmful?” with a resounding “no.” Studies of groups of students who were accelerated in subject matter and/or grade placement strongly support acceleration as an effective and important vehicle for advancing the academic knowledge and motivation of talented students. Academic achievement among accelerants is high without concomitant social and emotional problems.
Want To Try It?
Want to try acceleration? Start small. Find teachers who are willing to help students. Accelerate for one subject with just a few kids. Call it a pilot program. Keep it short (one unit, one novel, one trimester, etc). Make sure to get everyone on board first, including all teachers, parents, administrators, and (yes) the students themselves.
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