Consider a public school system with a written policy that recognizes that each child’s cognitive, physical, emotional, and social developmental rate is unique, and supports the belief that all students in regular and special education can learn, progress, and achieve when individual differences are recognized and addressed through adjustments in programming. Such a policy would embody the basic tenet that the pace of educational programs must be adapted to the capacities and knowledge of the individual child.
In most school systems throughout the United States classes are inextricably linked to the age of the student, and deviation there from looked upon with disapproval. Consequently, children who are exceptionally precocious or slow learners are advanced lockstep with their age-mates no matter what their academic accomplishments may be. Differentiated instruction, the catch phrase du jour, is proffered as the equitable means of addressing the needs of learners of disparate abilities in a single classroom. Studies have shown that successful differentiated instruction requires a well-trained, experienced, masterful instructors.
Hunt, in Intelligence and Experience, enunciated the paradigm that effective learning is linked to “an appropriate match between the circumstances that a child encounters and the schemata that he has already assimilated into his repertoire.” Present material that is too easy and you risk a tune-out through boredom; make the material too hard and you may be gazing at the specter of frustration or a classroom drop-out.
Recently, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Office of Shared Accountability just released a report titled Evaluation Study: Preparing Students for Algebra 2. Based on a “multiyear evaluation of student preparation to take and succeed in Algebra 2 and higher mathematics courses” in MCPS, on page vii, the report unabashedly states that “evidence of implementation was low for practices promoting differentiated learning.” Clearly, accommodating the average spectrum of learning styles in a single classroom has yet to be fully mastered.
What then are the options for the bright minds that necessarily come from every group, “including females, minorities, handicapped persons, persons of limited English-speaking proficiency, and migrants?” If academic placement and promotion was based on academic progress and the attainment of objectives assigned to the student, while simultaneously taking into consideration the needs of the whole child, would that suffice? What if such placement decisions are made with parents having the final say? Such placements are termed grade or subject acceleration.
MCPS has a policy, JEC, from which much of the language that precedes this paragraph was excerpted. What is more, the public school system has a policy, JEB, which allows for early entrance to pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first-grade. The rigid correspondence between age and grade placement, favored by the educational establishment, is certainly at variance with these policies.
MCPS has the framework to accommodate the academically gifted child through grade and subject acceleration. Furthermore, as this writer experienced first-hand, the public school system has the principals, counselors, and teachers who are not only open to this well-tested academic intervention, but are able to discharge their role in accordance with established practices in gifted education.
Why then is acceleration such an elusive intervention? We look for answers in the next installment in this series of articles.