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Acceleration is an intervention that moves students through an educational program at rates faster, or at younger ages, than typical. It means matching the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

- Colangelo, N; Assouline, SG & Gross, MUM (2004)

Research evidence for acceleration

There is strong research evidence supporting the strategy of acceleration for gifted students. Despite this the strategy is still relatively rarely used by schools. A greater awareness of the research around acceleration for gifted students might be what is needed to change this.

A Nation Deceived remains the seminal work on acceleration. Produced in 2004, it pulls together research from the preceding 50 years to provide a succinct analysis of acceleration, including tackling the misconceptions about acceleration and dispelling their impact through research, examples of effective practice, and real-life stories of students. The report notes some of the excuses given for not accelerating a student, and provides answers and research backed evidence to counter these. In particular it notes (p2): 

  • Acceleration is the most effective curriculum intervention for gifted children.
  • For bright students, acceleration has long-term beneficial effects, both academically and socially.
  • Acceleration is a virtually cost-free intervention.
  • Gifted children tend to be socially and emotionally more mature than their age-mates.
  • For many bright students, acceleration provides a better personal maturity match with classmates.
  • When bright students are presented with curriculum developed for age-peers, they can become bored and unhappy and get turned off from learning.
  • Testing, especially above-level testing (using tests developed for older students), is highly effective in identifying students who would benefit from acceleration.
  • Radical acceleration (acceleration by two or more years) is effective academically and socially for highly gifted students.
  • Many educators have been largely negative about the practice of acceleration, despite abundant research evidence for its success and viability.
  • It is important for parents to be fully involved in the decision-making process about their child’s acceleration.
  • The few problems that have been experienced with acceleration have stemmed primarily from incomplete or poor planning.
  • Educational equity does not mean educational sameness. Equity respects individual differences in readiness to learn and recognizes the value of each student.
  • The key question for educators is not whether to accelerate a gifted learner but rather how

Hattie compiled a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses, consisting of over 50,000 studies relating to educational achievement. He presented a league table consisting of contributions by the student, home, teacher, teaching approaches, school and curricula as defined by their effect-size, that is, the difference each contribution made to educational achievement, listing them in order of effectiveness. The meta-analyses identified acceleration, with an effect-size of .88, as the fifth highest contribution to student achievement, in a table of 138 factors.

This equates to almost two years advancement in achievement, which can be seen when students repeatedly rise to the top of the classes in the year ahead, when they are accelerated. The increase in their learning is visible. The league table showed that it is important to not only examine what leads to successful learning, but to see what works better than other strategies/interventions/ contributions. It is hard to find even a single research study showing acceleration to be harmful; on the contrary almost all studies demonstrate the positive academic, as well as social and emotional, effects of acceleration for gifted students.