Developing An Educational Plan/Curriculum
Instructional Management / Acceleration
by Karen Rogers, Ph.D.
Excerpted from Re-Forming Gifted Education
Grade-based acceleration can be defined as any option that shortens the number of years a child spends in mastering the K-12 curriculum. Early admission to high school or college and grade-skipping are different forms of grade-based acceleration because both shorten the number of years a student will spend in the K-12 school system.
Following are six specific types of grade-based acceleration options that are sometimes used in schools to help gifted children keep progressing at a rate that better matches their capabilities. Each option listed is simply a different way to manage or facilitate the acceleration. These options include:
Grade-skipping, sometimes called "double promotion," involves cutting a full year from the usual number of years typically required to progress from kindergarten to high school graduation. This type of acceleration is more frequently considered when it is considered at all in the earlier years of a child's schooling, perhaps because the beginning levels of learning are more basic and it is much easier to see when a child has mastered those levels and is ready to move on to the next grade.
The child who has skipped one grade will work full time with other children who are usually a year older on the regular curriculum for his new grade level. If the teacher enriches or extends the curriculum for brighter students at this grade level, then the child could become a part of that effort; if the teacher does not enrich, then the child would work with the regular curriculum at the same pace as other children in the class.
Non-graded classes do not refer to the absence of As and Bs, but instead refer to classes in which students are grouped in a way other than by a grade level or age. In a non-graded classroom, students are placed in a classroom according to their approximate level of achievement, regardless of their age or actual grade level. When this option is used, it usually is a school-wide practice, and not one just to benefit gifted children. Advocates propose that it benefits all children because it is based on each child's readiness to learn in different subjects.
A truly non-graded class will have children of different ages working in small groups, or alone, on a wide variety of tasks during each subject area period. The teacher moves from student to student and from group to group as questions are raised, but everyone is working at a different place in the curriculum.
Multi-grade classes, sometimes called "combination classes," share some common traits with non-graded classes but may cover a more limited curriculum in a single year. Often schools will create two-grade combinations, such as first-second, third-fourth, fifth-sixth, or seventh-eighth, but only rarely do they consider the abilities of the children placed in these classes. Instead, the two-grade classroom will often be made up of children of all levels of ability. This option usually occurs because the school has too many or too few children at some grade levels to constitute a full class at grade level. Typically, this option allows children to stay with the same teacher for a second year.
Grade telescoping, also called "rapid progress," involves allowing a child or preferably, a group of children of the same age to complete the school's curriculum of several years in one year's less time. For example, a middle school student could complete the three years' curriculum of middle school in two years, perhaps attending summer school in between the two years to keep up the learning pace. He could do this by working on his own in the library for math, moving in and out of science and social studies classes offered in all three years as he masters what is being taught in each of them, and/or working with a teacher specialist on a regular basis to cover all of the concepts, skills, and literature of three years of language-arts curriculum. Or he could be part of a group of able students who are provided with the three-year curriculum at a faster pace (e.g., two-years' time) by a separate set of teachers for each area of the curriculum.
Grade telescoping requires the school to look carefully at its curriculum, to eliminate repetition, to limit practice of already mastered skills and concepts, and to step up considerably the pace of learning. Usually, the child is not allowed to skip any subject areas of curriculum but will move more rapidly through them.
Credit for Prior Learning/Testing Out
Testing out has also been called "credit by examination" or "placement testing." It differs from compacting (streamlining the regular curriculum to "buy time" for enrichment, accelerated content, and independent study) in that the assessments for this option are formal and objective in nature, and no replacement learning experiences are added to the curriculum.
The testing-out option is exercised by a student when he is allowed to complete a test in a subject area that covers one semester or one year of work. If he scores at an acceptable criterion for showing mastery to the school or teacher (usually a score of 80-85% or above), then the student is allowed to move into a higher level course, or he can use the earned time to pursue a different subject.
In elementary or middle school, moving to a higher-level class is much more likely. But once the student is in high school or college, testing out can signal the end of study in that specific subject area, either because the school has nothing further to offer the student or because the student has no deep, continuing interest in that subject area and prefers to pursue something of greater interest. Gifted students who are repeatedly allowed to test out in areas where they have already mastered the knowledge and skills are often able to complete the K-12 curriculum in considerably fewer years than the typical 13. This form of grade-based acceleration, then, will end up shortening the number of years in school in the same way as a grade-skip does.
Early Admission to College
There is substantial research to document students successfully leaving high school after tenth or eleventh grade to enter college at that time, often without any formal graduation from high school. This option, once funded by the Ford Foundation as a way to actively recruit bright students to enter college early, was particularly popular during two periods of our nation's recent history: 1940-42, and again in 1949. There was a belief that bright students would be the best military leaders; hence the need to get their preparatory training over more quickly. At present, early entrance to college is used by gifted students who believe that high school has little more to offer them.
Students who have been admitted early to college typically participate in the regular university curriculum and work with others who are older than they. No additional curriculum enrichment takes place at least not sytematically except for possible enrollment in honors classes at the college level.