In Genius Denied, Davidson Institute founders Jan and Bob Davidson claim objections to acceleration fall into two categories of concern: negative social and emotional outcomes or gaps in knowledge.
Negatives Often Based on Misconceptions
Unfounded misconceptions exist about impacts of academic acceleration on social and emotional development of gifted students and their long-term academic outcomes. While a wealth of research exists on longitudinal effects of grade advancement, a dearth of gifted education material is taught in our nation’s teaching colleges. Teachers and administrators have to rely on personal perceptions, misapplied lessons of inclusion from special education, and a prevailing desire to do no harm.
Social Effects of Acceleration
Concerns about negative social and emotional effects are not supported by research. Research by Paul Janos and Nancy Robinson shows that psychosocial maturity of gifted children is closer to their academic mental age than their chronological age. These kids not only think older, they also feel older. Gifted children often have a hard time relating to age peers that are not intellectual peers sharing similar interests. As a result, gifted kids often naturally seek out older children as companions.
For strong acceleration candidates, changing grades often helps them develop stronger friendships. Research by Miraca Gross found that highly gifted students who grade skipped actually were socially more well adjusted than those who remained in coursework dictated by age. Missed or mismatched milestones of youth such as prom or driving a car at the same time as friends prove insignificant to students compared to the benefits of acceleration.
Academic Effects of Acceleration
Karen Rogers, whose research is included in the Templeton report A Nation Deceived, looked at 32 studies of grade based acceleration and found that when compared to non-accelerated gifted learners, grade skipped students achieved a half year of growth in all academic subjects. According to Rogers, the results of all 32 studies were “remarkably consistent and positive.”
Another meta-analysis by James Kulik and Chen-Lin Kulik of 26 long-term studies of accelerated students found that gifted students who skipped grades academically outperformed gifted students who were not accelerated without negative social or emotional outcomes. For most highly gifted students exhibiting indicators of probable success, acceleration obviously does not result in either meaningful education gaps or damage to the social and emotional development of the gifted child.
There was no evidence of persisting performance gaps resulting from missed knowledge acquisition. Gifted learners adapt quickly to fill any information gaps resulting from acceleration. It doesn’t really matter if a lecture on butterfly life cycles, Charlotte’s Web, or Boolean logic was missed by skipping a grade.
The Decision to Accelerate
While the decision to skip a grade is often scary for parents and considered radical by teachers, the Davidsons stress that in their personal experience working with profoundly gifted children, roughly 90% of those who’ve experienced grade acceleration have a positive long-term outcome. The risks of non-acceleration actually far outweigh those of providing appropriate academic challenge through grade advancement.
Davidson, Jan and Bob Davidson with Laura Vanderkam. Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004
Gross, Miraca U.M. “Radical Acceleration: Responding to Academic and Social Needs of Extremely Gifted Adolescents.” Journal of Secondary Gifted Education Vol. 5 No. 4 1994:27-34.
Janos, Paul M. and Robinson, Nancy M. “Psychosocial Development in Intellectually Gifted Children.” In F.D. Horowitz and M. O’Brien (Eds.). The Gifted and Talented: Developmental Perspectives. American Psychology Association 1985: 149-195.
Kulik, James A. and Chen-Lin C. Kulik. “The Effects of Accelerated Instruction on Students.” Review of Educational Research Vol. 54, No. 3 1984:409-425.
Rogers, Karen B. “The Academic Effects of Acceleration.” A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students Vol. 2 2004: 47-57.