Parenting is tough and education is one of the biggest challenges these days. When it comes to academic acceleration, there is a lot of advice out there. How do you determine what’s right for you and your family?
Settle in, this is going to be a long one, but I promise, it will be worthwhile. Please keep in mind that I’m a parent and everything I’m writing here is from my point of view in our very specific situation. I’ve done a lot of research, talked to many people, and I’m sharing our experience simply to get some conversations going.
What is Academic Acceleration?
There are different levels of acceleration but they generally boil down to whole grade or subject. Whole grade acceleration refers to moving your child ahead an entire grade whereas subject acceleration applies only to specific academic subjects, usually math. Please note that academic acceleration is different from gifted services.
Seems simple enough, right? Not so much. We initially pursued whole grade acceleration but *spoiler* we didn’t end up going that route for a number of reasons but mostly because Autumn decided against it.
Autumn essentially taught herself to read because we went too slow. I kid you not. She took great joy in reading street signs and, well, everything she could from the backseat of the car. Autumn’s kindergarten teacher recognized her ability early on and provided her with advanced work. Thankfully, Autumn had the same teacher in first grade so the acceleration continued. We will gloss over 2nd grade because it was a bad year all around with a teacher who didn’t get Autumn at all. Let’s just say, we left that school system because we could see that our kid weren’t going to receive the educations they needed.
At her new school, Autumn was again told she needed to wait to receive gifted services but her teachers were fantastic about challenging her. It still wasn’t enough. At her request, I spent a lot of time creating “lessons” for her to complete after school and over summers.
In 5th grade, Autumn received gifted services and subject acceleration in math. Now, math is Autumn’s least favorite subject but she performed well and loved the challenge. Of course, it dawned on the kid that if she could be accelerated in a subject she hates why not also in a subject she loves? As her 5th grade year came to a close, I met with our district’s gifted services director, her LA teacher, and her gifted services teacher. They assured me that Autumn would be challenged in 6th grade including LA. I was also cautioned that Autumn would miss out on things in 8th grade if we were to accelerate her in LA since “nobody else does it.” Grudgingly, I conceded and allowed them to keep things as they were.
Start of 6th Grade
6th grade began with a very excited young lady. It didn’t last. Disappointment settled in within a month and Autumn no longer wanted to go to school. For the first time in Autumn’s young life, she only did the bare minimum required. The worst part? She still pulled high As in every subject. No studying, no work outside of school, no real effort at all. When I pressed her about the change, Autumn simply shrugged and said “what’s the point of doing extra, it doesn’t matter, nobody even reads it.” She even asked me to homeschool her.
I fired off an email that night.
Fall 6th Grade
September 26th – Meeting with most of Autumn’s team. In the end, we had to follow “protocol” and give her teachers a chance to challenge Autumn “now that they were aware of her needs.” We agreed to reconvene in four weeks.
My thoughts: we were very frustrated at this point. Autumn seemed on the verge of depression. When she finally opened up to me, I was appalled by her experiences. One teacher told Autumn it was unacceptable for her to work ahead of the class on an assignment. Not a team project or group discussion, mind you. Another teacher questioned her writing by asking if they were her words, decided they weren’t, and marked her grade down. He didn’t ask Autumn if they were her words (they were) and just assumed she cheated. It took Autumn a while to come forward about all of this and a lot of it was used against her as the school argued that she didn’t “need” to be accelerated. Needless to say, we left the meeting feeling dejected.
September 30th – A follow-up email indicated regular check-ups to assess Autumn’s engagement would occur. Autumn’s goals: a) let teachers know when she needed more to do and b) ask permission to modify work to fit her interests or abilities.
My thoughts: this response did not help Autumn at all. Her engagement in class was never the issue.
October 3rd – Autumn’s fall MAP test scores: 93rd percentile for math (remember, she’s taking 7th grade math), 98th percentile for reading.
October 27th – Follow-up meeting set. The discussion again showed the system’s resistance to accelerate Autumn, even in her best subject. However, they finally agreed to a trial of 7th grade LA.
Winter 6th Grade
December 13th – We notified the school that we were moving and Autumn would attend a different MS in the district.
My thoughts: This was not a decision we made lightly. We considered both kids’ needs and decided it was for the best.
January 2nd – Autumn started at her new school.
February 20th – Autumn moved from 6th grade LA to 7th grade LA. We received a letter dated 2/17/17 indicating that Autumn qualified for subject acceleration in English Language Arts.
My thoughts: woohoo! It took so long but we made it. Thanks to her 6th and 7th grade LA teachers and her gifted services teacher at her new school, Autumn finally arrived at whole grade acceleration. She even managed to join Power of the Pen, something she’d tried to do at her old school but couldn’t because they didn’t allow 6th graders to participate since they couldn’t actually compete.
Spring 6th Grade
Autumn walks with a little pep in her step now. Autumn is putting in all of the extra effort we are used to seeing from her. She entered the College Credit Plus Program (we’ll do a post on that later). We’ve met with her guidance counselor and the gifted services director to discuss Autumn’s schedule going forward. Autumn is more excited than I’ve seen her in a long time. Next year she will be taking 8th grade LA as well as 8th grade math. Because of scheduling, Autumn will also be able to take 8th grade social studies. There were many concerns voiced about Autumn’s chosen path but she’s set and I agree with my kid.
Our Experience with Academic Acceleration
We were shocked at the resistance to accelerate Autumn. This is a child who not only taught herself to read but also spends a lot of time writing stories, poems, and plays for fun. Autumn attends writer’s conferences with me and actually participates in discussions. She does reports (fully researched) about toys and programs she’s interested in. This is a kid who hates math but had no problems being accelerated in that subject yet when she asked to be accelerated in her favorite subject she was met with resistance. She doesn’t want (or need) busy work. She wants to delve deeper and move faster so she can cover more ground.
Why We Settled for Subject Acceleration
If you read the above sections, you are probably wondering why we didn’t just push for the full grade acceleration since next year half of her classes will be accelerated. Honestly, it came down to Autumn’s other interests. Power of the Pen is a writing team that allows 7th and 8th graders to compete against other schools. Autumn cannot wait for the opportunity to particpate.
Autumn is also an athlete. She plays basketball and softball and doesn’t want to lose a full year of eligibility/growth. If she accelerated to 8th grade next year, she’d miss out on the opportunity on a full year of ball. More than that, she’s played basketball and softball with the same girls for a few years now and she wants to keep playing with them. I get that. Further, in Autumn’s mind, she’s gotten what she wants. She’ll be able to take college classes starting this fall AND she will spend half of her day with 8th graders.
Things You Should Consider if You’re Thinking About Academic Acceleration
- Do your research. There are a lot of resources available for parents on the pros and cons of acceleration. This is my favorite pro-acceleration article: The Many Faces of Acceleration.Talk to your child about what he or she wants. Is there a desire, a need for more?
- Think long-term. What will acceleration mean for your child in the next year, in the next five years, for college.
- Compile as much data as you can. I have a folder stuffed with test scores, writing samples, lists of books Autumn has read, and every little thing I though might help our case.
- Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You have to advocate for your child more than ever before. Be present, email, call, or even stop in at school if you need to get somebody’s attention.
- Seek out your own alternatives – there are gifted camps, special programs, and even classes your child can take to find more challenging learning opportunities.