Before we examine acceleration as a method of providing for the gifted, let's examine a hypothetical situation in another profession.
Over forty years ago physicians reported experimentations proving the effectiveness of a procedure that was seldom used. Since then it has been tested on many groups. The averages of these tests have almost always shown it to be helpful and have not shown it to be harmful. Leading physicians praise it highly and continually recommend that it be used in conjunction with other procedures. Despite the research and the respected professional endorsements, only a small percentage of physicians permit its use, even though when properly prescribed it would be beneficial.
This situation is pure fiction, but if it were true, it is almost certain that we should be shocked when it was uncovered. The proved effects of acceleration and its lack of use by most educators is an exact parallel of this hypothetical situation! In fact, if you will return to the above paragraph and substitute the word "educators" or "teachers" for the word "physicians," you will have a relatively brief summary of the status of acceleration in our schools.
The Effectiveness of Acceleration
An accelerated student completes any given segment of the educational program in less than normal time or at an earlier than normal age. For example, students who enter first grade at the age of
graduate from high school at fifteen, or complete a four year college curriculum in three years are all accelerated. What evidence do we have about the worth of this procedure?
Evidence concerning the effects of acceleration accumulated in the 1920's. Although the criteria for acceleration were frequently rough and conclusions were drawn without the benefit of matched control groups, the general outlines of present knowledge began emerging at that time. Children admitted to school at an early chronological age equaled or excelled the scholastic achievement of their classmates.(1)
When students of very superior intelligence and/or achievement had been accelerated, they generally did well in high school,(2,3) and when they did, they made either good or excellent records at the university level.(4)
During the 1930's and 1940's interest continued in acceleration, and experimentation expanded to evaluate different effects. While additional evidence demonstrated that the achievement of gifted students generally increased when they were accelerated (5,6,7,8,9) questions arose concerning its effect on other facets of student growth.
Is acceleration detrimental to the social or personality development of the gifted? At the primary level an accelerated group was unusually well adjusted socially,(10) while at the secondary level the peer acceptance of accelerated students was not lowered, (11,12) and they were as active (13) or more active (14) socially. Acceleration had no detrimental effects on personality adjustment.(15)
Does acceleration ultimately lower the level of education that students complete or adversely affect their adult achievement? It was found that the level of education completed was not adversely affected,(16) and that younger students were more apt to complete college training than older students.(17) Those finishing college early were more successful in adult life than those finishing at a conventional age.(18)
General rejection of acceleration continues despite the wealth of earlier studies and the addition of more recent evidence of its value.
Current evidence indicates that acceleration through early school admission does not adversely affect mental health, attitude toward school, or number of sociometric choices by classmates.(19)
Gifted children who enter school early adjust well to school.(20) During the first year, their achievement equals that of their older classmates,(21) and by the time they are in high school they markedly exceed their older classmates in graduation with honors, election to an honor society, and participation in extracurricular activities.(22)
Having selected students skip one or more grades is another method of acceleration. Students who skip in the early primary grades lead their classes in subsequent grades, sometimes to an extent that suggests additional acceleration.(23) When students who skip a grade in elementary school are compared with matched students who do not skip, no harmful effects of the acceleration are evident in scholastic interests, vocational interests, participation in school activities, or social adjustment when the students are high school seniors.(24)
Although Terman did not indicate the accelerating procedure used with those of his gifted who advanced beyond age level, it is probable that the majority of his accelerants skipped grades. He concluded after a twenty-five-year study that acceleration leads students to more advanced education and to greater success in adult life.(25) He strongly advocated acceleration.
Grade-skipping has also been practiced by allowing selected students to enter college at the end of tenth or eleventh grade. The results at the University of Chicago (26) and the well known early admission study by the Fund for the Advancement of Education (27) have proven this to be a highly advantageous procedure for gifted students.
Another method combines special classes and acceleration so that the gifted, in a special group, cover the curriculum for selected grades in less than average time. A comprehensive study by Justman determined that junior high school students who complete a three year program in two years through special grouping show no detrimental effects in personal or social adjustment,(28) while their academic achievement equals or significantly exceeds that of their nonaccelerated peers.(29,30)
The evidence presented here is merely representative; it does not include all the research that has been done on acceleration. In the light of this evidence, what arguments are used by those who still oppose it? Although personally favoring acceleration, several authors have compiled these arguments.(31,32,33) Let us examine them and their validity.
- Although students may be intellectually gifted, their social and emotional development is not equal to that of older students; consequently, placing them with older students can lead to maladjustment in these areas.
It would appear that those who continue to use this argument are unfamiliar with research results. First, research on the characteristics of gifted students indicates that above average intellectual maturity is frequently accompanied by above average maturity in other facets of growth. This has been found not only by those concentrating on the gifted, but also by specialists in child development who are concerned with all intellectual levels. Second, careful examination of gifted students who have been accelerated demonstrates that social and emotional maladjustment is not a correlate of acceleration. In fact, research shows that the social development of the gifted frequently improves when they are accelerated. It is not unlikely that a child whose mental and social ages are well above his chronological age will make friends with older students who have mental and social ages more similar to his.
- Singling out a gifted student for acceleration calls attention to a superiority, which can lead to later maladjustment.
This argument, similar to the preceding one, has been soundly disproven by research; gifted accelerants do not become maladjusted. Also, carrying it to its logical conclusion would mean that any methodology is harmful if it shows that some students are superior to others. Thus, it evolves into an argument against providing for any kind of differences in learning ability-even in a heterogeneous classroom. It is doubtful that the teacher will fool the gifted student into believing that individual differences do not exist merely because teaching methods refuse to acknowledge them. And what a tragic waste of human resources if we ever did succeed in convincing the gifted that they should not learn more rapidly than anyone of their same chronological age!
- Students who skip a grade will miss important learnings which will hinder their later academic growth.
That there is a fallacy in this statement is made most markedly evident by the many research studies showing that the academic
growth of selected gifted students is not hindered by skipping. While these students have uneven profiles in achievement, they most often achieve above grade level in all areas. They will certainly be operating above the level of many students in the grade to which they are skipped. If a given student who would otherwise qualify for acceleration is relatively weak in a single academic area, he may be further prepared for the jump through appropriate vertical enrichment, or he may receive needed help through individualized lessons after accelerating. For most gifted students, then, the statement is simply not true. In the few instances where gifted students would be able to reap the profits of acceleration except for one or two academic areas, appropriate steps should be taken to help them with those areas. They should not automatically be denied the opportunity to accelerate.
- Accelerated students merely spend less time covering the same materials that others cover instead of receiving the broadened learnings of which they are capable.
This argument, which has been called "the most potent of all the arguments against acceleration," (34) is based on a totally erroneous conception of what good acceleration is. It was voiced many years ago by Rugg, who said that acceleration "is based, of course, on the assumption that all pupils should study one curriculum; that, once having completed any given year's increment of that curriculum, they should proceed at once to the next." (35) There is no such assumption inherent in the acceleration recommended today. The mere covering of any portion of the curriculum is never prima facie evidence that a student should accelerate. All facets of his growth are considered, and the issue is whether or not his total growth will benefit by placing him with students who are more nearly his peers in everything except chronological age.
Once a student has accelerated, the various types of enrichment are still used. Accelerating a pupil does not eliminate the responsibility of providing for individual differences. The accelerated student should maintain a learning rate that requires many broadening enrichment activities. If he does not receive them, it is not the fault of acceleration but of the school, which does not understand appropriate methodology.
- Children who spend less than normal time in elementary or high school are being deprived of the chance to work with teachers
who specialize in students of their age levels and are being placed with teachers who specialize in older students.
The assumption here is that some magical change takes place in a child between the time he leaves elementary school and starts high school or between the time he leaves high school and starts college. Changes that do take place are a product of the educational environment and of a general maturing process, which is not sharply dichotomic. Also, teachers are accustomed to working with students of varying levels. Insofar as they do "specialize," it is in working with students of certain levels of maturity. Since gifted students are likely to have above average maturity, it would seem logical that they are better off with teachers accustomed to that growth level.
- Accelerated students are deprived of the chance to reflect, absorb, and generally make a part of themselves those qualities of learning that can come only with time.
While no one can disagree with the assumption that depth of learning does take time, we can certainly question the assumption that the sacred norm for this is one grade in school for each year of life. If we did not believe that in the matter of time there is a point of diminishing returns, we might have children spend five years at each grade level. This point will not be the same for gifted students as for others. There more rapid rate of learning may enable them to take out of a given experience all the learning their maturity permits, while their classmates are still trying to understand what it's all about. This situation is less likely if the gifted are accelerated to work with those more like them mentally rather than merely chronologically.
- Accelerated students may be deprived of leadership opportunities when placed with older students.
Again, this gives undue importance to chronological age. Students at all grade levels are more influenced in their conscious or unconscious choice of leaders by ability to perform than by age alone, and the general maturity of the gifted has been re-emphasized here many times. In addition, research evidence fails to bear out the belief that acceleration deprives the gifted of leadership opportunities.
- Children of the same mental age (e.g. twelve) but markedly different chronological ages (e.g. eight and twelve) will not learn in the same way.
While this statement has validity, as an argument against acceleration it is based on at least three false assumptions. The first is that mental age is the sole criterion for acceleration. As we have stated, other facets of growth must be considered in making the decision. Second, and a corollary of the first, the assumption is that eight and twelve year old students would be placed together. If this ever happened, which is unlikely, it would be only after sufficient consideration of all factors to assure that such placement would not be detrimental to the gifted child. The third assumption, since the argument favors keeping the same ages together, must be that children of the same chronological age do learn in the same way. Anyone who has spent even one day in a classroom knows that this is not true.
- There are better ways to provide for the gifted than acceleration. This seems to be based on the belief that methodology with the gifted is an either-or proposition-that acceleration or special grouping or enrichment or any procedure must be used alone. Nothing could be less true. Appropriate enrichment must still be provided for the accelerated gifted student, whether he is in a regular or special class. No one, least of all the many people who have researched acceleration, ever recommends it as the one way to provide for the gifted. The so-called "better ways" suggested by opponents should be used in conjunction with a sound acceleration policy. It has proven effectiveness. If there is a method so effective that it removes acceleration as a worthwhile procedure, it may be hoped that its proponents will hasten to prove experimentally its value as thoroughly as acceleration has been proven.
The Values of Acceleration
It seems that the case for acceleration has been well made. Research evidence proves its value; the arguments used against it either ignore this evidence or rely on unsupported judgment. However, after examining the foregoing points with a school administrator who was unalterably opposed to acceleration, he asked, "But why would you want anyone to get through school early?"
Accelerating generally leads to improved achievement, an eventual higher level of education, and greater success in adult life. With these advantages it does not harm social adjustment, personality development, mental health, attitudes toward school, or scholastic and vocational interests. It would seem that any procedure with these results
would be hailed by the schools as a major contribution to education for the gifted.
We know that gifted students are more likely to fill adult positions that require advanced training and that they are more likely to pursue advanced training when they have been accelerated. Also, while countless contributions are made by those of later years, we know that the peak years for both quantity and quality of output occur when the contributor is relatively young.(36,37) When students are perfectly capable of breaking the lock-step curriculum, there can be little reason for arbitrarily forcing them to proceed into their most productive years at a pace inappropriate to their abilities.
Those who, in determining grade placement, refuse to accept the fact that selected gifted students profit from acceleration are substituting the single factor of chronological age for a combination of factors that constitutes total growth. In most ways the average gifted student is more nearly like chronologically older students. Why, then, should this complex of important traits be ignored in favor of the single one of chronological age?
Grade levels are merely divisions in a series of developmentally arranged learning experiences. These divisions are not divinely decreed. For the most part they are based on what an average child can learn at succeeding age levels, and on value judgments about what this average child should learn at each level. Since the gifted child is not average, it is difficult to see why he should be held to this learning pace.
The issue of acceleration as a method is as resolved as any educational issue has been. There is no question about its advisability.(38)
Knowledgeable, rational educators at all levels must conclude that acceleration offers one of the most promising procedures for gifted students. The issues that remain are how this should take place and what criteria should determine selection.
- Edward A. Lincoln, "The Later Performance of Under-Aged Children Admitted to School on the Basis of Mental Age," Journal of Educational Research, 19 (January 1929), pp. 22-30.
- Margaret M. Alltucker, "Is the Pedagogically Accelerated Student a Misfit in the Senior High School?" School Review, 32 (March 1924), pp. 193-202.
- A. H. Martin, "A Study of the Subsequent Standing of Specially Promoted Pupils," Education of Gifted Children, Twenty-third Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part I, ed. Guy M. Whipple (Bloomington, Ill.: Public School Publishing Co., 1924), pp. 333-53ˇ
- Earl M. Haney and Willis 1. Uhl, "Academic Records of Accelerated Students," Ibid. pp. 323-32.
- William A. Herr, "Junior High School Accelerants and Their Peers in Senior High School," School Review, 45 (March 1937), pp. I86-sl5.
- S. P. Unzicker, "A Study of Acceleration in the Junior High School," School Review, 40 (May 1932), pp. 346-56.
- Walter 1. Wilkins, "High School Achievement of Accelerated Pupils," School Review, 44 (April 1936), pp. 268-73.
- Mary Helen Dohan, "The Accelerated Elementary Program at Ursuline Academy, New Orleans," The Catholic Educational Review, 46 (September 1948), pp. 431-5.
- Jesse E. Adams and C. O. Rose, "Is Skipping Grades a Satisfactory Method of Acceleration?" American School Board Journal, 85 (July 1932), PPˇ24-5ˇ
- Dohan, loco cit.
- Herr, loco cit.
- Walter 1. Wilkins, "The Social Adjustment of Accelerated Pupils," School Review, 44 (June 1936), pp. 445-55.
- Thelburn Engle, "A Study of the Effects of School Acceleration upon the Personality and Social Adjustment of High School and University Students," Journal of Educational Psychology, 29 (October 1938), pp. 523-39.
- Frank H. Finch and Herbert Carroll, "Gifted Children as High School Leaders," Pedagogical Seminary and Journal of Genetic Psychology, 41 (December 1932), pp. 476-81.
- Thelburn Engle, loco cit.
- J. 1. Engle "Achievements of Pupils Who Have Had Double Promotions in Elementary School," Elementary School Journal, 36 (November 1935), pp. 185-9.
- Sidney 1. Pressey, Educational Acceleration: Appraisals and Basic Problems, Bureau of Educational Research, Monograph No. 31 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1949), pp. 58-74.
- Elizabeth H. Stokes, The Relationship of School Entrance Age to Sociometric Status, Mental Health, and School Attitudes in Intellectually Superior Children (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, North Texas State College, Denton, Texas, 1960).
- Jack W. Birch, "Early School Admission for Mentally Advanced Children," Exceptional Children, 21 (December 1954), pp. 84-7ˇ .
- Rosalee G. Weiss, The Validity of Early Entrance into Kindergarten (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, College of Education, New York University, 1960).
- Boyd R. McCandless, "Should a Bright Child Start to School Before He Is Five?" Education, 77 (February 1957), pp. 370-75ˇ
- Helen M. Murphy, "Acceleration in First Grade for Selected Pupils," Chicago Schools Journal, 41 (December 1960), pp. 119-22.
- Norman Mirman, "Are Accelerated Students Socially Maladjusted?" The Elementary School Journal, 62 (February 1962), pp. 273-6.
- Lewis M. Terman and Melita H. aden, The Gifted Child Grows Up, Twenty-five Years' Follow-up of a Superior Group, Vol. IV: Genetic Studies of Genius (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1947), pp. 264-81.
- Benjamin S. Bloom and F. Champion Ward, "The Chicago Bachelor of Arts Degree After Ten Years," Journal of Higher Education, 23 (December 1952), pp. 459-67.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education, They Went to College Early (New York: Fund for the Advancement of Education, 1957), II7 pp.
- Joseph Justman, "Personal and Social Adjustment of Intellectually Gifted Accelerants and Non-Accelerants in Junior High Schools," School Review, 61 (November 1953), pp. 468-78.
- Joseph Justman, "Academic Achievement of Intellectually Gifted Accelerants and Non-Accelerants in Junior High School," School Review, 62 (March 1954), pp. 142-5°.
- Joseph Justman, "Academic Achievement of Intellectually Gifted Accelerants and Non-Accelerants in Senior High School," School Review, 62 (November 1954), pp. 469-73.
- Merle R. Sumption and Evelyn M. Luecking, Education of the Gifted (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1960), pp. 198-201.
- A. Harry Passow, "Enrichment of Education for the Gifted," Education for the Gifted, Fifty-seventh Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II, ed. N. B. Henry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 214.
- Samuel R. Laycock, Gifted Children (Vancouver: The Copp Clark Publishing Co., 1957), pp. 38-40
- Ibid. p. 39
- Harold Rugg, "The Curriculum for Gifted Children," Education of Gifted Children, Twenty-third Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, op. cit. p. 96.
- Harvey C. Lehman, Age and Achievement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953).
- Dennis B. Bromley, "Some Experimental Tests of the Effect of Age on Creative Intellectual Output," Journal of Gerontology, II (January 1956), pp. 74-82.
- Project on the Academically Talented Student and National Association of Secondary-School Principals, Administration: Procedures and School Practices for the Academically Talented Student in the Secondary School (Washington: National Education Association, 1960), p. 68.