New York Times Misses the Mark on Accelerating the Gifted Child

Jessica Lahey, a blogger for the New York Times, recently wrote a post, Against Accelerating the Gifted Child,  questioning if acceleration is really what we (society, educators, who?) want for gifted children. I can only surmise that Ms. Lahey is not the parent of a gifted child or dealing with a school where options are fairly limited.

The child she uses for an example isn’t just gifted but a prodigy and featured in the YouTube series Prodigies. In the episode Tanishq Abraham, the child featured, does mention that he wishes he had more friends. How many children with average IQs say the same thing? My guess there are many.

It’s unfortunate that an article questioning the wisdom of acceleration, which usually means a grade at a time, uses an example where the child is truly an outlier. The worst thing that could be done for children like Tanishq is to keep him lock-step with his age mates. Luckily, his parents recognize this and homeschool and have found a college for him to attend at such a young age.

Ms Lahey does reference A Nation Deceived, the 2004 report from the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration which shows that acceleration is in fact a valuable solution for students in need of academic challenge. However, she also quotes Maureen Neihart in the Gifted Child Quarterly who states acceleration “may be harmful to unselected students who are arbitrarily accelerated on the bases of IQ, achievement, or social maturity.”

The truth is that NO student should be accelerated with out a rigorous vetting process. Ms. Lahey failed to mention another Iowa Acceleration Scalepublication from the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration – the Iowa Acceleration Scale. According to the IRPA, the Iowa Acceleration Scale provides:

  • A more objective look at the student
  • An analysis of the major factors to be considered in making a decision
  • Guidelines for weighting the relative importance of the major factors
  • Documentation of the student’s strengths and concerns
  • A numerical range to guide the discussion and decision of acceleration
  • A standard of comparison with students who have had successful accelerations

The author doesn’t seem to understand that gifted children, those with IQs 125 and up, need options to keep them intellectually challenged. Students are more likely to make social connections with intellectual peers rather than age-mates. Surely the best case scenario is attending classes with students in the same age and intellectual range. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option for the vast majority of gifted children as full-time schools for the gifted are a rarity. Academic acceleration must remain an option for these students.

How Our Journey Began

I know most new parents assume their child will be probably be curing cancer by the time they get their drivers license but that wasn’t the case with me. My darling girl was born two months early and so after reading all the scary things that can plague preemies I was just hoping she’d be able to see and hear normally. She was our first (and only) and I really had no direct experience with little ones so I had no idea what a normal child was. When she spoke her first word “Hi” at age 10 months everyone thought it was adorable – and it was! She looked much younger than she was because she was so tiny. Her second word was actually a phrase, “I know.” And she said it in that tone of voice that I tend to use. That should’ve set off all kinds of warning buzzers off in my mind!

Still, we really didn’t look for nor expect anything than a just a healthy, happy girl. At age two and half she was following the presidential election closely enough to know that Barack Obama lived in Chicago and his wife’s name was Michelle. Thank you, NPR. Of course, she also told me that Barack Obama and the Muffin Man were both from other planets so I’m not sure she really had a good grasp on the political landscape of 2008.

We sent her to daycare three days a week beginning at age two and we chose a facility based on the fact it was affiliated with a local hospital, it was clean and provided nutritious meals and we could afford it. She absolutely hated it. Every morning she cried when we dropped her off and it was one of the hardest things for any parent to deal with. So we set our sights on a preschool that would do more to keep her engaged than a typical daycare.

The preschool we chose was new and looked like the architect used to work for Disney World. It was darling and the staff said all the right things. The director said that in the two-year old room children learn colors and shapes. When we asked what happens if the child already knows all that and their numbers and letters we just got an indulgent smile. You know that look. I’m sure there will be at least one future post about that look.

On the second day when I went to pick up my daughter the director met me with a look that made my heart skip a beat. I thought something had happened to my little one – or the check had bounced. No, I was greeted with “You didn’t tell

gifted child

Age 3, reading her performance review

us she could read”! It turns out my little darling was reading the menus for what was for lunch and telling all the other kids. The staff wasn’t sure what to think so they started having her read miscellaneous forms. Yep, she could read. I felt like crying. Partly with joy and partly with fear. Looking back on it, mostly fear.

We took her to the library which was already one of our favorite places to go and started pulling random books off the shelves to see if she really could read them. We knew she could read all the books at home but that was because we were reading to her and she was memorizing them. Or so we thought.

Pros to having a two year old who can read:

  • Listening to them discover new ideas in books is a thrill
  • Learning seems to happen almost exponentially
  • It’s a pretty good parlor trick

Cons to having a two year old who can read:

  • They can read billboards that announce Kids Eat Free on Tuesdays!
  • They read your incoming text messages while playing on your phone
  • No more skipping sentences or even words when you read to them (yes, I used to edit all those Dora books)

So, my point (finally) is – how DO you know if your kid is gifted? Well, it’s tough. We still didn’t know what we had on our hands and unfortunately where we live there aren’t any resources for kids until they’re in 1st grade. We did have her tested at age three and a half and it was confirmed that we had one gifted girl. It was then that I started educating myself on what all this meant.

My first stop was Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page. This is a must for anyone wishing to learn more about all things gifted. Second stop was Talent Igniter and the Ruf Estimates of Levels of Gifted. The assessments are a good place for parents to start.

How did your journey begin?