Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Socioaffective Impact of Acceleration and Ability Grouping: Recommendations for Best Practice

Neilhart, Maureen. "The socioaffective impact of acceleration and ability grouping: Recommendations for best practice." Gifted Child Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2007): 330-341.


Maureen Neilhart seeks to explore the effect of acceleration and ability groupings for gifted children. While most studies choose to focus on achievement as the primary focus for the research, Neilhart explores the social and emotional consequences of these practices. By using research conducted through a variety of studies, Neilhart concludes that grade acceleration should be routine for highly gifted children. She concludes that the research does not indicate any strong social or emotional benefits or consequences of this practice. Neilhart recommends candidates for grade acceleration be placed in a cohort so a student is not accelerating individually. She also adds that not all gifted students are good candidates for grade skipping. The evidence of negative social affective impact in peer ability grouping is less straightforward. Neilhart suggests that both mixed ability and ability grouping are beneficial to gifted students, but ultimately it depends on the child.

This article struck me as interesting because of the nature of gifted students and the hot debate about ability grouped classrooms. While the intention was to use this information in helping me group students in my classroom, due to the ambiguous results, I found more interest in the conclusions relating to acceleration. I have already began to utilize curriculum compacting as a way to accelerate gifted students, however this article confirmed my practice by concluding that there are many social and emotional benefits to students when they are accelerated. While I don’t’ think the research of Neilhart is directly applicable to my Action Research, I have taken note of her references and I intend to read more on the subject of ability grouping.

Relevant Quotes/Concepts:

“Although acceleration can take many forms, the three most commonly studied are early entrance to school, early entrance to college, and grade skipping. Studies of these forms of acceleration consistently fail to find evidence of any negative social or emotional effects for nearly all accelerants” (331).

“Peer ability grouping seems to have positive socioaffective effects for some gifted students, neutral effects for others, and detrimental effects on a few” (334).

“Educators should consider the possibility that a student who demonstrates low motivation, social withdrawal or isolation, and negative attitudes toward school or academic work might, in fact, be a good candidate for acceleration options” (336).

“We should also stress that any discussion about ability grouping must address the valid concern that grouping in the past has been associated with inequality of opportunity" (336).

Text Sources:
Oakes, J. (1985). Keeping Track. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Rogers, K. (1993). Grouping the gifted and talented: Questions and answers. Roeper Review, 16, 9-12.

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