A background paper created for the Portland Public School District Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee

Margaret DeLacy, April 19, 1996




General Discussion

Acceleration and Enrichment

Research Concerning the Effects of Acceleration

Grade Acceleration and Non-Academic Issues

Acceleration within the Portland School District

The Academic Effects of Acceleration

Guidelines for Selecting Appropriate Students and Determining the Appropriate Levels of Instruction


References: Books

References: Articles and Unpublished Papers

Return to Links for Portland Parents of Talented and Gifted Children


[A note to readers: I am a Portland parent and wrote this document as part of a background paper to help the advisory committee make recommendations concerning Portland School District policies . The materials used were readily available reputable studies. However, it does not represent new "findings" nor was it an exhaustive review of the entire literature. It was intended to convey the views of experts in the field. It has been placed online to make some of the research more accessible to other parents and teachers. As a result of the DTAC recommentations, some changes have occured in the school district.

This document does not necessarily reflect the views of the school district or even the Advisory Committee which was not asked to approve it. The recommendations that the DTAC did approve are available on this site as the position paper Meeting the needs of gifted children in Portland Public Schools. The suggestion about placing students at the 80th. percentile was based on logic; no research seems be available on this topic. The suggestion has not been implemented.--M.D., 2/15/2000]


General Discussion

Acceleration and Enrichment

Acceleration is the practice of giving students material and assignments that are usually reserved for students who are older or in higher grades. It involves the use of existing school curricula, although it may also include additional materials. For example, acceleration may involve assigning a fifth-grade student the curriculum topics that are usually covered in a sixth-grade mathematics class, even if the actual problems or text are slightly different. Acceleration is most meaningful when a school district has a well-established curriculum and the successive years of school involve steadily increasing levels of difficulty. Acceleration implies that academically advanced students will progress faster through the school system than other students. It means adapting curriculum to the student's assessed level of mastery, rather than insisting that a single curriculum is appropriate for all students of the same age. It also implies that students who master more advanced subjects will receive academic credit and promotion based on their level of mastery, not the "seat time" spent in school.

Acceleration is distinguished from enrichment, which fills the time of children who learn more quickly by offering materials or activities that do not allow faster progress through the established curriculum. Enrichment activities may include introducing students to other fields or activities, such as art, music, journal writing, clubs or field trips; assigning additional work at the same level of difficulty, or assigning the advanced student various school responsibilities such as classroom aide. For example, a mathmatics enrichment program for a fifth grade student, instead of introducing the sixth-grade curriculum which includes decimals and percentages, might use more complex word problems that can be solved with the student's existing ability to multiply and divide but need more time than the problems given to other students. Or it might include subjects not normally offered in fifth grade mathematics such as tesselation or chess. Or it might simply mean assigning twice as many problems as other children have.

Acceleration can be achieved in several different ways including:

Several of these acceleration options also involve ability grouping: children who have gained a similar mastery level must be grouped together to take advanced placement or accelerated classes. Several of these acceleration options are logically linked together: an "ungraded classroom" involves curriculum compacting or telescoping; concurrent enrollment usually implies subject acceleration, and curriculum compacting implies advanced placement in a subsequent year.

Research concerning the effects of acceleration.

The evidence in favor of acceleration for highly gifted children is unambiguous and overwhelming.

Despite a significant effort, we could not find any work that questioned its benefits. It is also the method that is implied in state law, and by the State Board of Education rules committee. Yet educators in general, and the Portland School district in particular, seem unnecessarily conservative in recommending it. Research on this subject covers more than seventy years, beginning with the longitudinal studies of Terman in 1925. Both single studies that have accumulated since then and repeated reviews of the literature have consistently shown that this practice is successful with appropriately selected students. For example, in a literature review that cited more than 220 sources, Stephen Daurio concluded in 1979 that

"All indications point to the maintenance of professional attitudes of excessive concern over potential socioemotional maladjustment among intellectually precocious young accelerates, and too little concern about the probability of maladjusting effects resulting from inadequate intellectual challenge.... based on numerous retrospective accounts of early entrance to college, there appear to be no data reported in the acceleration literature to refute the appropriateness of acceleration for intellectually able students. Furthermore the single major prospective report... offers considerable positive evidence that acceleration is indeed advantageous for intellectually able and socially mature youths..... No studies have shown enrichment to provide superior results over accelerative methods. Enrichment at best may only defer boredom.... Much resistance to acceleration ... is based on preconceived notions and irrational grounds, rather than on an examination of the evidence. Most resistance stems from concerns about the socioemotional development of the accelerated student. When the facts are studied, however, we find that such adjustment problems generally are minimal and short-lived.... accelerated students ... perform at least as well as, and often better than, 'normal-aged' control students, on both academic and nonacademic measures."

In 1984, Kulik and Kulik carried out a meta-analysis of 26 controlled studies on the effects of acceleration. They considered only quantitative studies that included non-accelerated control groups of students who were matched with accelerates by ability. Half were matched with non-accelerates of the same age and "IQ", the other half with students in the same grade level. They concluded that the acelerated students surpassed the matched non-accelerates of the same age by nearly a full grade level. They concluded that

"the overall message from the thirteen studies [that used same-age controls] were unequivocal: acceleration contributes to achievement."

A study carried out by the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins in 1994 found that 95% of the 175 youths in the study perceived positive consequences from acceleration although one-half also reported some negative consequences. Less than 2% reported only negative effects. The report concluded that

"the most striking finding was that the large majority of students felt that acceleration was positive.... Given such a strong favorable evaluation, parents and educators should facilitate acceleration opportunities.... Despite the overwhelming reports of the positive effects of acceleration, they were frequently accompanied by reports of negative effects.... Research studies, however, have found that these social difficulties do not have a great impact.... it is strongly recommended that students, parents, and educators consider the intellectual benefits of acceleration experiences, but also be aware of potential social disadvantages.... acceleration opportunities should be "tailored" to the individual's intellectual and social needs."

In a summary provided for the ERIC clearing house of disabilities and gifted education, Sharon Lynch wrote that acceleration, either in the form of grade skipping or single subject acceleration is

"appropriate for children who are intellectually and academically capable of learning at a faster pace and in greater depth than their same-age peers, and who are motivated to do so. Insisting that gifted and talented students remain with their age-mates at all costs may exact too high a cost.... But the decision to allow a child to accelerate... is one that must be made for each child, taking into account his or her intellectual and emotional needs.... research about acceleration consistently documents positive effects, both academic and social, for children who have accelerated, but educators have been slow to embrace the option."

Even such authors as Robert Slavin, the leading proponent of "cooperative learning" in place of ability grouping, and David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child agree that acceleration is appropriate for very bright children. Elkind has objected to the use of the word itself as inappropriate, "the wrong term to employ when describing the promotion of gifted children," but appears to have no objections to the practice, which he calls "tailoring" and considers a "developmentally appropriate teaching practice," "which should be undertaken at all age levels." Slavin, author of the most widely cited work on the benefits of cooperative learning, has commented that

"gifted programs... are most justifitable when the content of the special program represents true acceleration, or in any case a markedly different curriculum which would be inappropriate for average or low achievers.... At the elementary level, acceleration can best be achieved by allowing students in one grade to receive reading or math insturction in a higher grade class... I am opposed, however, to enrichment programs.... schools which use cooperative learning as a rationale to abandon accelerated programs in math for students who can benefit from them certainly do not do so on my advice."

Grade acceleration and non-academic issues

Conversely, there is evidence that grade retention can be extremely damaging to the social and emotional welfare of very gifted children. For example, a study of forty extremely gifted Australian children (I.Q. of 160 or above) by Miraca Gross found that the majority of these children who were retained in their normal classrooms:

"experienced extreme difficulty in establishing positive social relationships with their classmates. The strongly negative perceptions which they develop both of their own social skills and of their image in the eyes of other children are reflected in extremely low levels of social self-esteem. Over half the children in the study have social self-esteem scores at least one standard deviation below the mean.... Significantly, the only children scoring more than one standard deviation above the mean.... are children who have been radically accelerated."

Such findings suggest that the opposition of many schools to grade skipping for young children on a "first do no harm" basis, because there are so many factors that are difficult to assess or predict, should be revised: grade retention may also do considerable harm. In a review provided for gifted students by Johns Hopkins in 1994, Lesley Mackay commented that:

"Acceleration's potential as an escape hatch from boredom is extremely important. The lack of challenge ... in school is not only tragic, it's damaging. Dr. Julian Stanley, Director of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Johns Hopkins, believes that adhering to conventional academic timetables can compromise the furtures of highly able students. While the accelerants with whom Dr. Stanley works have almost all enjoyed very successful college careers, talented students who complete high school entirely in step with their age-peers may have more trouble in college. One possible explanation: academic boredom at a young age can lead to lack of motivation and less developed work habits"

These findings should lay to rest the belief that offering appropriately accelerated programs to gifted children constitutes "elitism." Without intervention, these children are at serious risk of committing suicide, dropping out of school, engaging in dangerous and socially undesirable activities, or simply enduring constant depression and frequent despair. Children have far fewer opportunities to choose their environment, companions, or opportunities than do adults. Entering school should not condemn a child to profound isolation, the equivalent of years of solitary confinement. Repeated human experience has shown that few adults can withstand prolonged isolation and retain their mental health.

Evidence on the effect of retention or acceleration on social and emotional welfare in the case of "typical" gifted students, that is, those with I.Q. scores of between 120 and 160, is inconclusive: few studies found any significant effects. In a review published in 1983, Lynn Daggett Pollins found that "not one study has found acceleration to harm the social and emotional development of gifted students permanently or severely." There are, however, studies that report some social/emotional problems. Moreover, because students who are offered acceleration are often selected on the grounds that they also possess the necessary social maturity, it appears that this issue has not been adequately addressed in the existing literature. One concern about acceleration that is not well addressed in the research is the issue of lagging physical development. The most common concern that is expressed is for boys who may either lack the ability to sit still in a classroom setting or who may later wish to engage in sports where size and weight are important for success. This same concern should be equally relevant to girls. There is some evidence that gifted boys who are accelerated are less likely than controls to participate in contact sports. However, this issue could easily be addressed by permitting these children to participate in P.E. classes with age-mates where schedules permit, or by enrolling them in extra-curricular sports where children are placed by age and ability, not grade level. We only wish our children could find in their schools the flexibility and ability-based opportunities that are offered by many community athletic activities. Otherwise, accelerated children appear to be more popular with their peers and more engaged in extra-curricular activities than those of equal intelligence who are not accelerated.

Classroom behavior is not well addressed in studies, but it seems evident that some compromise is necessary to enable gifted children to progress at a comfortable pace in every area of their school lives. It is clear that it is important to discuss the options with the student, and not to proceed unless the student understands and agrees to the decision. Accelerated students should be watched to see if the classroom placement is too stressful, either because of greater expectations for good behavior from older students, or because of excessive teasing. In such cases, a different classroom at the same level, further acceleration where appropriate, and counseling should all be considered before a decision is made to end the accelerated class assignment. Behavior problems are often exacerbated by boredom, so sending the child back to an earlier grade may make the problem worse, not better, unless there is strong evidence that a student has been accelerated too quickly. Similarly, gifted students are often subjected to teasing wherever they are placed.

Because most of the studies of acceleration consider only children who were recommended for acceleration based on evidence of social as well as academic maturity, there are few guidelines for assessing the wisdom of acceleration for children who are normal, or below normal in social, emotional, or even physical development. A bright first grader may easily test at a fifth grade level in reading but lack the coordination to write. Acceleration for such children is likely to succeed only when all parties support the decision and educators are willing and able to make the necessary adjustments to their expectations for classroom behavior and performance. It can be difficult to tell whether a gifted child who has been judged "immature" or a "behavior problem" is suffering because of academic frustration, lack of appropriate socialization, or genuine developmental difficulties. Because even normal or mature children misbehave when they face grossly inappropriate assignments day after day, we feel that schools should first provide academically appropriate work before drawing any conclusions about a child's social or emotional status. However, because all gifted children are likely to experience the problems caused by being "out of synch" to a greater or lesser extent, we recommend continued counseling and monitoring for all TAG children.

Many children in their early teens say they don't want to be labeled as "gifted," or they don't like being accelerated, or they have trouble making friends, but these problems often diminish as the child grows older, even without intervention. Moreover many children in their early teens who are not gifted or who are not offered accelerated work also are unhappy at school. There are few well controlled studies that deal with such concerns. Social or emotional problems don't necessarily mean acceleration was a bad idea: many of these students would probably have experienced such difficulties even if they had not been accelerated.

Gifted children seem to be at risk for poor study habits, disorganization, and an inability to learn from oral instruction. Often these problems result from the fact that the student has never had to develop these skills because s/he has always been in undemanding classes. These "bad habits" can complicate efforts at acceleration. [Robinson, 1983] We recommend that counseling that addresses these problems be made available to TAG parents, educators and children on a regular basis. We also recommend that all TAG children receive counseling to assist them in dealing with the socialization issues that are created by "dysynchronous" development.

Another concern that is not addressed at all in the research is lagging fine-motor coordination. This is especially a concern with young gifted students who may read far more easily than they can write. This "gap" is often a source of great frustration for the student also, and may result in classroom behavior that appears inexplicable until it is identified. These children may refuse to write at all or have notably poor handwriting, as the hand struggles to keep pace with a racing brain. Fine motor control is also important for other areas of school life. For example, dexterity may be needed for classroom projects or for science experiments, as well as such subjects as sewing, cooking, electronics and shop. It is especially important if the student is particularly interested in art or music: for example, an art teacher may be less enthusiastic about the ability of a child who is with much older classmates and is naturally likely to be compared with them and not with age-peers. Families with a strong tradition of interest in these activities, or with children who are already displaying interest or skill in such fields, need to consider this when making decisions about acceleration.

Parents should understand that if a student is placed in a grade at the eightieth percentile level, the student may be ineligible for separate TAG classes that are pegged for TAG students of that new grade level who are performing at yet a higher grade level. This should not be a problem if the acceleration itself created enough of a challenge for their own students: TAG classes should not be seen as "perks" or rewards, but as filling an unmet need for an appropriate curriculum and should focus on existing curricular subjects. However, TAG students also need an opportunity to spend time with other gifted students and with age- peers, even if they are accelerated into other grades. These new grades may not have other gifted students. Grouping is the best solution for this, but occasional "pull-out" enrichment classes are appropriate for this purpose. Such classes should be seen as meeting the social and emotional needs of these students, not as a substitute for an appropriate academic program, which is the first obligation of the school and the TAG program.

Finally, acceleration may cause an extra-curricular social problem for children whose friends are much older than they are, and who are engaging in activities that the younger children are not yet permitted to join, such as unchaperoned outings, parties, or dating. Parents and students who are struggling with this problem need help from counselors. However, many middle schools and most Portland high schools have many mixed-age classes, such as language and science classes, so parents should be wary of well-meant comments such as "it will be hard when all his friends can drive and he can't." The likelihood is that wherever students are placed, by the time they reach high school they will find friends and classmates of different ages. Also, happy children are much more resilient and able to take minor issues in stride than are miserable children.

Acceleration within the Portland School District.

Many Portland educators have a hostility to acceleration that is not justified by any available evidence. At one cluster planning meeting which included representative parents, teachers, and administrators from each school in the cluster, the entire group nearly eliminated grade-skipping altogether as an option that could be included in individual planning for TAG students. "Skipping" was retained in the plan only because one principal stated that he felt that he should have that option available to him in the rare cases where it seemed to be necessary.

We believe that "skipping" or early entry to school should be considered much more often. Within the district, individual building TAG plans offer long menus of planning options for qualified students. These typically comprise many "enrichment" options, for use both within and outside the classroom, such as "field trips," "problem solving activities," "arts programs," "newsletter," or "chess club." There is no solid evidence that such enrichment activities benefit TAG children academically, and no justification for limiting such enrichment opportunities to these children or for offering them in place of accelerated instruction. Moreover, to the extent that these activities fail to address the existing curriculum or take place outside the school day, they cannot be used to meet the state TAG mandate. Any school program that is limited to such options appears to be in violation of the mandate. Many schools rarely consider acceleration either by grade or by subject, despite the fact that it is inexpensive, simple, easy for parents and students to understand, and has repeatedly been shown to be effective and appropriate. The possiblity of acceleration simply has not occurred to many district educators. All the available research suggests that accelerated instruction should be among the first options considered for very bright children.

It is particularly disturbing that many elementary schools are not making accelerated math instruction available even though studies by Kulik and others have shown that such classes benefit all students socially and emotionally and do not harm students in other classes academically. Because math instruction is relatively standardized, and grade-level assessments are relatively reliable, advanced math classes are an inexpensive and satisfactory method for meeting the TAG mandate at all levels. We can see no reason why these classes should not be offered, nor why they should not be available to any child that wishes to participate. Very bright children should be encouraged to choose the advanced math classes that are appropriate for them, regardless of the grade level at which they are normally offered. In other words, a sixth grade student might take a seventh- or eighth- grade advanced math class.

The academic effects of acceleration

The evidence on the academic benefits of acceleration is so strong that the efforts of some researchers have shifted from documenting its benefits to attempting to explain the apparently perverse reluctance of educators to adopt it. Others have agreed that the debate should shift from the question of whether acceleration is a good idea to the question of what criteria should be used to decide when acceleration is appropriate.

Ability grouping by itself has been found to yield limited benefits for gifted children unless it is accompanied by a enriched or accelerated curriculum. Karen Rogers in 1991 and Kulik in 1992 found that the benefits of acceleration for such children are substantially greater than those of enrichment: when high-ability students were grouped and offered a standard curriculum they outperformed matched controls by one month; with "tailored instruction" they outperformed peers by three or more months; when they were offered an enriched curriculum they exceeded peers in mixed clases by four to five months; and when they were offered an accelerated curriculum they outperformed peers by nearly a full year.

There is a little evidence suggesting that children benefit academically from "pull-out" enrichment programs of the sort that used to be provided by the Portland School District. However, there is much more substantial evidence that when acceleration and ability grouping are combined, the students within the groups are likely to gain significant academic benefits. It has also been shown that such ability grouping does not harm the academic achievement of children who are not included in these groups and may actually benefit those "ungrouped" children both academically and psychologically.

A major research review of grouping practices by Karen Rogers in 1991 found that, whereas full-time ability grouping (tracking) for regular instruction made no difference for the academic achievement of average and low ability students, it made a major difference in the academic achievement of gifted students. Rogers also found that ability grouping for enrichment and other forms of ability grouping, such as grouping within the classroom, also resulted in gains for the gifted. On the other hand, she found that cooperative learning in mixed-ability groups could not be shown to benefit gifted students. Grouping for acceleration produced significant gains when it occurred in the form of ungraded classrooms, curriculum compacting, grade telescoping (completing middle or high school early), subject by subject acceleration, and early admission. Advanced Placement produced a "nearly significant" gain. Acceleration did not appear to have any direct impact on self-esteem. Not only does ability grouping for acceleration result in astonishing academic improvement, but it also offers a solution for the other problems raised above. Because the accelerated children are grouped together and are closer to their other accelerated classmates in age, they are also likely to be closer to each other in physical development, maturity, and gross and fine motor coordination. They are also less likely to be oppressed by a school culture that isolates gifted children as "weird," "geeks" or "nerds."

Guidelines for selecting appropriate students and for determining appropriate levels of accelerated instruction.

The discussion below will focus on the three of the most common acceleration options: "grade skipping," single subject acceleration and advanced classes. There is no question about the benefits of acceleration for appropriately selected children but there is neither a consensus nor a satisfactory research base for deciding which children to skip, or what level of acceleration is best for any given child. The Johns Hopkins program for Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) has experimented with radical acceleration, sometimes to the extent of sending extremely gifted children to college in their early teens. Overall their results have been positive, as have similar experiments at the University of Washington. The few Australian students in Miraca Gross's study who skipped several years reported great satisfaction, as have a few American parents who have written to the two TAG online listservs.

However, most gifted children are not ready for such drastic measures. Moreover, most such studies concern children who are extremely gifted in mathematics and also happen to be precocious in other subjects. There is little information about children whose language skills are much more advanced than their mathematical ability. Nor is there much information about the ages at which acceleration is most likely to be successful, although some authors recommend acceleration at the times of transition from one school to another. In a meta-study of 19 previous research syntheses Karen Rogers and Richard Kimpston concluded in 1992 that "Grade skipping for bright children ... appears to be very beneficial. Its greatest research-supported academic and social effects appear to be in grades 3-6." Of the few studies that recommend specific criteria for acceleration, most propose standards that are far more lenient than those used in practice by the School District. For example, in 1986, Feldhusen, Proctor and Black recommended the following criteria, paraphrased as follows:

  1. there should be a comprehensive psychological evaluation of the child's intellectual functioning, academic skill levels, and social-emotional adjustment by a psychologist
  2. The child should have an IQ of 125 or a level of mental development above the mean for the grade he or she desires to enter.
  3. Academically, the child should demonstrate skill levels above the mean of the grade desired.
  4. The child should be free of any serious adjustment problems, however, when adjustment problems are caused by inapprpriately low grade placement, grade advancement may alleviate the problem.
  5. The child should be in good health.
  6. The psychologist should determine that the child does not feel unduly pressured by the parents to advance. The parents must be in favor of grade advancement, but the child should express the desire to move ahead.
  7. The receiving teacher must have a positive attitude.
  8. Because teachers often confuse misbehavior caused by inapropriate instruction with immaturity, judgements about a precocious child's maturity should include input from parents and psychologists,
  9. Mid-year advancements may sometimes be desirable,
  10. All grade advancement should be arranged on a trial basis of six weeks, with counselling services available,
  11. The child should not be made to feel he or she is a failure if the trial does not succeed, Alternatively, some children may need additional advancement.
  12. Failure to advance a precocious child may result in poor study habits, apathy, lack of motivation, and maladjustment.

Miraca Gross recently reported that these criteria are at present being used successfully in New South Wales.

In Parents Guide to Raising a Gifted Child, (1985) James Alvino recommends grade-skipping on a trial basis if a child has

  1. scores in the 99th. percentile or two or more years above grade level in both reading and mathematics,
  2. I.Q. of 135 or more,
  3. either good grades but frustration, or average to poor grades indicative of frustration,
  4. maturity evidenced by ability for independent work
  5. evidence of maturity as shown by ability to evaluate own work, express agreement and disagreement, and feelings
  6. good relationships with adults or older children and
  7. an ability to undertake independent work or responsibility at home, that exceeds what is evident in school.

Alvino does not explain what research underlay these recommendations. [pp 268-9].

These rules for identifying candidates for grade skipping would include many, perhaps most of the children who currently qualify for Oregon TAG services. The I.Q. score that represents the top three percent of the population is approximately 130, and such children typically test at least two years ahead of grade level. Portland schools would indeed appear to be too conservative in this regard.

Before discussing actual policy concerning placement, it is important to understand what "grade level," means in test scores. To obtain a "grade level" score, achievement tests are given to large numbers of children. The scores obtained by children in a given grade are averaged, and that number represents an approximate "grade level" score. If we say that a given child "reads at grade level," what we mean is that the score that that child received on a reading test is close to the average score for all children at a given grade level who took that test. This is a level that would be attained by an "average" or "typical" student. However, in any classroom there is a large range of actual students with very different reading abilities, none of whom is truly average. The typical student in such a classroom, provided the material is appropriate for the class, is likely to receive a grade ranging between "B-" and "C-" and to be having some difficulty with assignments. To say that a gifted child reads at a "sixth grade level" does not mean that he or she reads as well as the typical bright or successful sixth grader. Normally, when educators say that a given child reads at a "sixth grade level" they mean that that child has scored as well on a given test as would average sixth grade students if they had taken that same test. It does not necessarily mean that the younger child has the breadth of knowledge, the understanding, or the experience that even an average sixth-grade student brings to a reading assignment.

Nothing is gained by accelerating children to the point that they begin to struggle with their assignments, frequently receive grades of "C," or less, or lack the background information necessary to develop a complete understanding of a given subject. Even bright children need to master algebra before they embark on calculus, for example. Instead, the goal should be to find a level at which a child can reasonably expect to be level with the more successful students in the class, while still encountering material that presents some challenge. We want our children to learn that they need to earn their "A" grades, not to make it impossible for them to excel.

The Oregon TAG mandate requires that students be educated at an appropriately accelerated "rate" and "level" but does not define these concepts adequately nor provide guidance for establishing a definition. We suggest that the starting point for finding that ideal level is represented by using the test score that is obtained by the students in the eightieth percentile of a given grade; which we have called the eightieth percentile grade level. Although the number sounds higher, the actual grade that this score represents is lower than the mean or fiftieth-percentile grade level. For example, if a third grader tests at a so-called "seventh grade level" (that is obtains a score that is equivalent to an average seventh grade score), that same score might be obtained by the top 20 percent of fifth graders. A fifth grader who obtained the same score would be in the eightieth percentile of fifth-grade students. That fifth grade level would represent the eightieth- percentile level for the third grader: if the third grade student were to be placed in the fifth grade class, the third grader would be roughly on the same level as the better students in that class. On the other hand, if the third grade student were to be placed in a seventh-grade class, the student would be on a level with students who are already struggling to keep up.

The plan for the third grader should either consider accelerating that child by two grade levels, possibly in stages, or accelerating the child by one grade level but including an advanced math class at a fifth grade level and providing an accelerated or compacted reading curriculum or keeping the child in the third grade but using fifth grade materials. In some cases, the fifth grade reading assignments might be unsuitable for a younger child because they involve disturbing themes or require knowledge that the child does not have. In such cases, the teacher might choose books at a similar level of difficulty. The working assumption of planning should be that children will be taught at that eightieth percentile grade level unless there are good reasons for altering the plan. Individual plans should include the eightieth percentile grade level at the top and should be reported on PALT score reports that are sent home.

The curriculum offered should be clearly pegged to a given grade level and should not normally include vague comments about enrichment activities or philosophy. We expect that, using the 80th. percentile grade level as a guide to desirable acceleration goals, most TAG children will be placed within a single year of their existing grade level assignment, but that significantly more will be "skipped" in the future. In every case, however, individual plans will still involve fine-tuning to adapt curriculum to the needs, interests and strengths of each child. A discussion with the Evaluation and Testing department has suggested that determining this 80th. percentile grade level using PALT scores is a practical possibility, and TAG department personnel appear to feel that accelerating children at this rate might be a reasonable approach to planning.

We have found no studies that use this approach, however, except for a variation that has been used in a successful Early Entry Program at the University of Washington. We therefore recommend that if this approach is adopted, it be periodically evaluated to determine (1) whether it is a helpful approach to determining how TAG children should be served and (2) whether the 80th. percentile level is the best level to choose. A further refinement would be to remove the top three percent, the TAG children, when calculating this 80th. percentile level. The idea is that a child should be accelerated into a classroom where his peers will be the stronger students within the class. If the only peer in that classroom is one other TAG child, and all the other children are significantly below this level, frustration is likely to result, particularly if the plan is implemented uniformly, so that the one TAG child in the receiving classroom has already left for another accelerated class!


The best method for meeting the needs of gifted children is a flexible combination of ability grouping and acceleration. This gives children a better chance to find peers who share their interests and maturity level as well as their academic mastery. It helps teachers to adjust the rate of instruction as well as the level of instruction to their distinctive learning needs. Where appropriate classes are not available at a given school and grade level, simple acceleration is also helpful for many gifted students.

Return to Links for Portland Parents of Talented and Gifted Children

WWW version copyright February 11, 2000 by Margaret DeLacy. All rights reserved.


References: Books


Center for Talented Youth, (CTY) Johns Hopkins University, Academic Acceleration: Knowing your Options, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995)

Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, Identifying and Cultivating Talent in Preschool and Elementary School Children (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994)

Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, Topical Packet on Ability Grouping/Cooperative Learning (Baltimore, MD: n.d.)

Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, Topical Packet on Acceleration (n. pl., n.d.)

Maryland Task Force on Gifted and Talented Education, Renewing our Commitment to the Education of Gifted and Talented Students: An Essential Component of Educational Reform, (Baltimore, MD: State Department of Education, Division of Instruction,1994)

Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Handbook for Parents of Talented and Gifted Children, (Salem, OR: 1990)

Benbow, Camilla Persson and Lubinski, David, Intellectual Talent: Psychometric and Social Issues, (Baltimore and London:, Johns Hopkins University Press,1996)

Borland, James H, Planning and Implementing Programs for the Gifted, (New York and London: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1989)

Davis, Gary A. and Rimm, Sylvia B., Education of the Gifted and Talented, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985)

Elkind, David,The Hurried Child, (Reading, MA, Menlo Park CA: Addison-Wesley,1981)

Gross, Miraca U.M. Exceptionally Gifted Children, (London and New York: Routledge,1993)

Kulik, James A, An Analysis of the Research on Ability Grouping: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, (Storrs, Connecticut: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, U.S. Dept. of Education,1992)

Reis, Sally and others,Why Not Let High Ability Students Start School in January? The Curriculum Compacting Study, (Storrs, Connecticut: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, U.S. Department of Education,1993)

Rimm, Sylvia, Keys to Parenting the Gifted Child, (Happauge, N.Y: Barrons Educational Services Inc.,1994)

Rogers, Karen B., The Relationship of Grouping Practices to the Education of the Gifted and Talented Learner (Storrs, Connecticut:, National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, 1991)

Southern, W. Thomas and Jones, Eric D., eds, The Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children,(New York and London: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1991)

Winebrenner, Susan, Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom, (Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 1992)

Westberg, Karen L.; Archambault, Francis X.; Dobyns, Sally M; Slavin, Thomas J. An Observational Study of Instructional and Curricular Practices Used with Gifted and Talented Students in Regular Classrooms, (Storrs, Connecticut: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, U.S. Department of Education,1993)

Whitmore, Joanne Rand, Giftedness, Conflict and Underachievement, (Boston: Allyn and Bacon,1980)


Articles and unpublished papers


Advisory Committee on Exceptional Children and Youth, U.S. Department of State, 'General suggestions for establishing initiatives to meed the needs of students of high capacity, rpt. Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, (CTY) Identifying and Cultivating Talent in Preschool and Elementary School Children, (Baltimore: 1994) pp. 35-44

Brady, Linda E. and Benbow, Cammila P, "Accelerative strategies: how effective are they for the gifted?"(1987) , rpt. in CTY, Academic Acceleration, Knowing your Options (1995) pp. 109-120

"Brody, Linda E., and Stanley, Julian C.," Young college students: Assessing factors that contribute to success" (1991), rpt. CTY, Academic Acceleration, Knowing your Options, (1995), pp. 60-89

Callahan, Carolyn M. and Hunsaker, Scott L., "Evaluation of Acceleration Programs", in W. Thomas Southern and Eric D. Jones, Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children, pp. 181-206

Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, "Philosophy and Program Policy", (1994) rpt. in CTY, Academic Acceleration, Knowing your Options (1995)

Cornell; Dewey G., Callahan, Carolyn M., et al., "Affective Development in Accelerated Students", in Southern and Jones, Academic Acceleration, pp. 74-101

Cronbach, Lee J., "Acceleration among the Terman Males: Correlates in Midlife and after"(1996) rpt. in Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski: Intellectual Talent (1998) pp. 179-191

Daurio, Stephen P.,"Educational enrichment versus acceleration: a review of the literature", (1979) rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet.

Elkind, David,"Mental acceleration," (1988), rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

Elkind, David A.,"Response to Sisk", (1988), rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

Feldhusen, John F.,"Motivating Academically Able Youth with Enriched and Accelerated Learning Experiences" in Benbow and Lubinski: Intellectual Talent

Feldhusen, John F.,"Synthesis of Research on Gifted Youth" (1989)" rpt. in CTY, Ability Grouping and Cooperative Learning, topical packet

Feldhusen, John H,"Effects of Programs for the Gifted: a Search for evidence" in Southernand Jones, Academic Acceleration, pp. 133-147

Fiedler, Ellen D., "Recommendations for Implementation based on the Gifted Program Evaluation," (Grosse Pointe, Michigan,1994)

Gallagher, James J, "Educational Research and Educational Policy: The Strange Case of Acceleration," (1996) in Benbow and Lubinski: Intellectual Talent, pp. 83-92

Gross, Miraca U.M, "The use of radical acceleration in cases of extreme intellectual precocity", (1992) rpt. in CTY, Academic Acceleration, Knowing your Options (1995), pp.132-152

Grosse Pointe School District, "School District Materials' prepared for implementation of TAG instruction", (Grosse Pointe, Michigan Public School District,1995/6)

Hunsaker, Scott L and Callahan, Carolyn M, "Student Assessment and Evaluation, in Southern and Jones, Academic Acceleration pp. 207-222

Jasaitis, Jennifer C., Alternative Accelerated Program: Research and Recommendations for Full-Time Classes for Talented and Gifted Students, (Portland OR: Portland Public Schools, June 29, 1994)

Jones, Eric D. and Southern, W. Thomas, "Conclusions about Acceleration: Echoes of Debate," in Southern and Jones, Academic Acceleration pp. 223-228

King, Valorie, ed. and comp. "Academic Acceleration--What is it?", TAGFAM World Wide Web homepage MonTAGe, Vol. 1, no. 1, pt. 1, April 8, 1996.

Klausmeier, Herbert J.,"The Role of the Educational Researcher in Educational Improvement: A Retrospective Analysis", in Benbow and Lubinski: Intellectual Talent, pp. 99-115.

Kulik, James A., and Kulik, Chen-Lin C., "Effects of accelerated instruction on students," (1984) rpt. in CTY, Academic Acceleration, Knowing Your Options (1995), pp. 90-108

Lynch, Sharon, "Should gifted students be grade advanced?", (U.S. Dept of Education, Office of Educational Research, On-Line article, ERIC Digests, ERIC.

MacKay, Lesley, "Acceleration: evaluating the Controversy over Higher-Speed Education," (1994) rpt. in Academic Acceleration, Knowing Your Options, (1995) pp. 1-6

McCaig, Dr. Roger A.,"Big Lessons and Little Miracles", (Grosse Pointe: Lois Seyler, 1993)

"Mills, Carol J. and Durden, William G, "Cooperative learning or ability grouping: an issue of choice" (1992) rpt. in CTY, Identifying and Cultivating Talent in Preschool and Elementary School Children, (1994) pp. 91-102

"National Association for Gifted Children, "Some thoughts on acceleration", in Academic Acceleration, Knowing Your Options (1995), pp. 13-15.

Passow, A. Harry, "Acceleration over the Years," in Benbow and Lubinski: Intellectual Talent, pp. 93-98

Piper, Sylvia and Creps, Karen, "Practical Concerns in Assessment and Placement in Academic Acceleration," in Southern and Jones, Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children, pp. 162-180

Pollins, Lynn Daggett, "The effects of acceleration on the social and emotional development of gifted students", (1983) rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

Reis, Sally, "How schools are shortchanging the gifted,," Technology Review, 44 (April, 1994),39-45

Reis, Sally M., and Westberg, Karen L. "An examination of current school district policies: Acceleration of secondary students" (1994) in Academic Acceleration, Knowing Your Options (1995), pp. 42-59,

Robinson, Halbert B.,"A case for radical acceleration: programs of the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington," (1983) rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

Robinson, Nancy M., "Acceleration as an Option for the Highly Gifted Adolescent", in Benbow and Lubinski: Intellectual Talent pp. 169-178

"Roedell, Wendy C. "Programs for gifted young children", (1980) rpt. in CTY, Identifying and Cultivating Talent in Preschool and Elementary School Children, (1994) pp. 69-84"

Rogers, Karen B. and Kimpston, Richard D, "Acceleration: What we do vs. what we know", (1992) rpt. in CTY Academic Acceleration, Knowing Your Options (1995), pp.7-12

"Ross, Pat O'Connell, "Current elementary school programs," (1993) rpt. in CTY, Identifying and Cultivating Talent in Preschool and Elementary School Children, (1994) , pp. 45-6

Sisk, Dorothy A., "Response to Elkind," (1988) rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

Sisk, Dorothy A, "The Bored and Disinterested gifted child: going through school lockstep", (1988)rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

"Slavin, Robert E.,"Academic Programming for the Gifted", (1988) rpt. in CTY, Ability Grouping and Cooperative Learning, (1994) pp. 123-5

Slavin, Robert E. and Robinson, Ann, "Point-Counterpoint: Ability grouping, cooperative learning and the gifted" Journal for the Education of the Gifted 14, no. 1 (1990) 3-36

"Southern, W. Thomas; Jones, Eric D., and Fiscus, Edward D., "Practitioner objections to the academic acceleration of gifted children", (1989) rpt. in CTY, Acceleration, topical packet

VanTassel-Baska, Joyce, "Identification of Candidates for Acceleration: Issues and Concerns in Southern, and Jones, Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children, pp. 148-161

Witty, Paul A. and Wilkins, Laroy W. ,"The status of acceleration or grade skipping as an administrative practice", (New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts,,1933) rpt. in Walter B. Barbe ed., Psychology and Education of the Gifted: Selected Readings (1965), pp.390-413

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