SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS BE ALLOWED TO SKIP GRADES?
Accelerating students refers to the concept of having gifted students skip a grade. This idea used to be very popular. However, it has since waned in popularity over recent decades, with most school boards banning the practice. Allowing students to skip grades permits gifted students the opportunity to learn a more appropriately challenging curriculum. However, acceleration does come with several potential risks. Parents and educators often worry that accelerating students would lead to gifted students feeling socially isolated and/or stunt their social growth, by removing them from their natural social peers. Educators also worry that removing the gifted students from a class lowers the quality of the overall educational fabric that exists within a classroom. After all, gifted students often share insights with their peers, help their classmates learn, and raise the overall classroom expectations.
Personally, I have to admit I have a little bit of bias in favor of acceleration. I have long advocated for the idea of not teaching students curriculum, which they already know. As teachers, we are often encouraged to teach to the mean of the class. By doing this, we often continue to review material, which gifted students have already mastered and move on from material that struggling students have not yet learned. This is why I have personally advocated for teaching in a way that students work on learning goals and individually graduate from these learning goals once mastered. I believe in this method of teaching specifically, because gifted students can often learn curriculum at a far more rapid pace than their peers. Personally, I think there is something unethical about forcing gifted students to continuously review the same redundant curriculum or to force academically challenged students to move on from curriculum before they are ready. That all being said, ultimately, having students work on individualized curriculum and accelerating gifted students has a similar effect. Both strategies allow gifted students to study more appropriately challenging curriculum.
In order to ascertain whether or not the risks of acceleration are worth it, we need to first ascertain the magnitude of the possible academic benefits for gifted students of acceleration. Steenbergen et al, did a secondary meta-analysis of this topic, in 2016 which compiled the data of 6 other meta-studies on the topic. Their meta-analysis found that accelerated students outperformed their same age gifted peers who were not accelerated by a Hedges g effect size of .70. However, this effect size compiled all students who were accelerated from K-12, and students in lower grades who were accelerated far outperformed students who were accelerated in later grades. For example, most recently in 2004 Kulik and Kulik did a meta-analysis of this topic and found a Hedges g effect size of 1.62 for elementary accelerated students, an effect size of .73 for junior high accelerated students, and an effect size of .47 for senior high school accelerated students. This would suggest that accelerating students is a high yield strategy for elementary and junior high school students, but not for senior high school students. This, of course, makes a lot of sense, when we realize how much more complicated senior high school curriculum is than primary school curriculum.
It is also interesting to note that a meta-analysis by Rogers in 2008 looked at several different types of acceleration and found that they each had vastly different effect sizes. His analysis found that the highest yield form of acceleration was not grade-skipping, but rather individualized curriculum! Indeed he found a massive Hedges g effect size of 2.35. This would mean that providing gifted students with an individualized curriculum could have the potential range of impact of tripling learning. To make these stats more easily comparable, I have graphed them below with a few high yield and low yield strategies.