Should I accelerate my gifted child?

Boy solving advanced math problem on chalk board

Since I began studying academic acceleration, I am surprised by how many people I meet who have either been accelerated or are considering acceleration for their child. When talking with parents who are thinking about skipping their child ahead a grade, they are usually confident about the child’s immediate ability to perform at the next grade level. She may already be reading one or two grade levels ahead, and she is bored in her current classroom. Parents typically don’t worry about the 3 Rs—reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are much more worried about what I call the three Ds—driving, drinking, and dating.

Parents are less sure about the long-term consequences. Will my child be able to make friends and fit in socially? Will she stay competitive academically and be able to get into a good college? Will she be bothered that her friends get their driver’s licenses before she does? Will she find a good career, or will she burn out early because she was pushed too hard?

It is quite natural to wonder about the future and what might happen as the result of making different choices—accelerating or not. Although we don’t have a crystal ball into the future, we can rely on over a century of rigorous research that investigates the effects of different forms of acceleration on numerous outcomes. The Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa just released “A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students.” This two-volume series is full of research useful to parents, educators, administrators, and others considering acceleration.

Researchers estimate that 18 to 25 percent of gifted students drop out of school.I contributed a chapter to Volume II, focused on career outcomes for accelerated students. I compared occupational prestige, earnings, and job satisfaction between students who skipped a grade in elementary or middle school and their older classmates. Eight years after high school graduation, students who skipped a grade were more successful. They had more prestigious occupations; they earned more; and they increased their income faster than their older, similar-ability, non-accelerated peers. Furthermore, they were just as satisfied in their careers as students who had not accelerated, providing no support for the theory that accelerated students will burn out early.

Other chapters in the volume speak to the social and emotional consequences of acceleration (spoiler alert: acceleration has no negative impacts); outcomes for different types of acceleration; accelerated programming such as talent searches, early entrance to kindergarten, first grade, or even university settings; how to provide professional development and change perceptions about acceleration; and many more. A Nation Empowered and the other resources available from the Acceleration Institute are great for anyone considering acceleration or trying to advocate on behalf of a child who should be accelerated. If you are considering accelerating your child, it might be worth having a conversation with his or her counselor. With a wealth of evidence to support acceleration coming from A Nation Empowered, you can be well-prepared for that discussion.

Read more about what constitutes a gifted and talented child, frequently asked questions, and links to further resources in our overview flyer. Or read more blog posts about what research says works for gifted children.

Join in the discussion online at Twitter using #gtchat or #nationempowered.

View more posts by Katie McClarty or chat with her on Twitter, @katiemcclarty.

View this extended video conversation on TeacherCast for an in-depth look at Katie’s gifted and talented research.

Here is a link to another blog, Gifted Matters, where Katie further discusses her research.


About the Author
Katie McClarty

Katie McClarty, Ph.D.

Katie McClarty leads of the Center for College & Career Success. She heads a team of researchers in planning and executing research in support of the Center mission, which is to (1) identify and measure the skills needed to be successful in college and careers, (2) determine pathways for students to be college and career ready, (3) track their progress along the pathway, and (4) evaluate effective ways to keep students on track. Dr. McClarty has authored papers, chapters, and presentations related to college readiness, standard setting, assessment design, computer-based testing, interface design, teacher effectiveness, and next generation assessments. Her work has been published in journals such as the American Psychologist, Research in Higher Education, Applied Measurement in Education, Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research & Perspectives, and Educational Researcher. Dr. McClarty holds a doctorate degree in social and personality psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.