Can Schools Hold back America’s Brightest?

Can Schools Hold back America’s Brightest?

A Call to Action – The Templeton National Report on Acceleration

The Templeton National Report on Acceleration has a shocking name and an even more shocking message; entitled A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest, the report details the findings of decades of research pointing toward the incredible and irrefutable benefits of acceleration for gifted students. Dispelling countless myths about the disadvantages of both subject and grade acceleration such as potential social problems or unnecessary anxiety, for instance, the report reveals that the vast majority of gifted students who are given the opportunity to accelerate are — on the contrary — happy, well-adjusted, and personally fulfilled. In fact, the authors of the report go so far as to say that when implemented correctly, acceleration is almost always successful for those students who show signs of readiness.

Criteria for Acceleration

Not all students can or should skip grades or be “challenged” by above grade-level subject material, but the truth is — many gifted students can and should. According to the Templeton report, 200,000 middle school students take college entrance exams each year, and most of them score better than high school seniors. Furthermore, research has shown that those students who are highly and profoundly gifted can learn an entire year’s worth of high school curricula in a matter of just a few weeks. If these kids aren’t accelerated or at the very least challenged, then how bored must they be during the other 37 weeks of the year?

How can schools and parents determine whether a child can benefit from acceleration? In order to decide whether grade acceleration or subject acceleration is warranted, schools and parents must consider the following indicators of readiness:

  • Standardized test scores
  • Student motivation and maturity
  • Parent and teacher observations
  • Special instruments such as The Iowa Acceleration Scale

Types of Acceleration

When most people think of acceleration, grade acceleration, commonly referred to as “skipping grades,” is often the first thing that comes to mind. In reality, though, there are many different types of acceleration including:

  • Starting school early
  • Advancing in one or more subjects
  • Advanced Placement (AP) classes

There is no one-size-fits-all type of acceleration for all students. Like all children, gifted students have unique academic and social needs, so what works for one may not necessarily work for another; when acceleration becomes essential, parents and schools must work together to determine an acceleration plan best-suited for the individual child. In the rare cases that acceleration does fail, it is almost always due to lack of planning. According to the Templeton report, gifted students who are both academically and socially/emotionally advanced may benefit more from grade acceleration whereas students who are primarily academically gifted may be better served by subject acceleration.

What Teachers Should Do

The myth that gifted students can teach themselves or learn on their own without intervention from teachers is a damaging one. Research has shown that although these children are certainly adept at learning, they need the resources to do so that only a competent teacher can provide. Aside from their parents, the classroom teacher is the most critical player in a gifted student’s education. When faced with the challenge of teaching a highly capable child, there are two fundamental things a teacher should do: provide daily enrichment and observe and report signs of readiness for acceleration.

Unfortunately, many teachers are uninformed of the benefits of subject and grade acceleration. In fact, there seems to be a widespread belief within the education community that acceleration is either ineffective and potentially damaging to students, or simply not an option. That’s not to mention the fact that today’s teachers are often faced with the impossible task of meeting the diverse needs of a crowded classroom full of students and an increasingly demanding curriculum. Initiatives like The No Child Left Behind Act have forced teachers to be more and more accountable to a set of basic grade-level standards. Thus, the majority of their efforts are targeted toward ensuring that all students pass a single high-stakes standardized test. In this scenario, it’s easy for teachers to ignore the needs of the students who are guaranteed to ace it.

What Parents Can Do

Parents should always be their children’s biggest advocates, but this is especially true when teachers or school administrators fail to take action when necessary. If your child shows signs of readiness for subject or grade acceleration, but his teacher isn’t providing enrichment or reporting his readiness to school guidance counselors or administrators, then it will be up to you to take matters into your own hands. This may mean initiating a parent-teacher conference, discussing the matter with the school administrator, or even contacting the school board. Whatever it is that you have to do, make sure that your child doesn’t remain in a classroom without receiving the education he deserves. Many gifted students go to school day after day and rarely learn anything new; don’t let your child be one of them.

Resources for Gifted Students

Schools aren’t the only places that can provide resources and enrichment for your gifted child. Thanks to the Internet, there is now a host of informative websites, forums, and organizations that provide valuable advice, support, research, and programs for gifted students. Performing a simple Google search can put you on the path toward locating additional resources for both you and your child.

Raising Awareness

The call-to-action in the Templeton report is not just for schools and parents. In order for real change to occur within our school systems and society at large, we must all make our voices heard. Reach out to your local principal, school board members, and state and federal legislators and let them know that you’re concerned about the rights of gifted students. After all, these children may one day be your doctors, lawyers, or local mayors. When excellence is supported and embraced, we all benefit.

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