Should gifted students be taught separately?

Written Sep 7, 2016

While all children are indeed gifts, and are gifted in their own way, not all children are academically gifted. Usually, schools provide specific criteria for admission to a gifted program – often, an IQ test is utilized as the initial screening. Additionally, input may be sought from other sources, such as parents, teachers, counselors, etc. The specific criterion for entry is often to be within the top 2% of the population. Note that schools are generally attempting to measure and identify those who are academically gifted, and are therefore seeking correlation with ability to succeed academically (as opposed to other gifts, such as athletic ability, artistic ability, etc.). In the US, states and school districts generally determine the criteria for gifted programs.


There has been extensive research conducted on types of intervention for gifted students, and their effects. The Acceleration Institute identifies 20 types of acceleration for bright students, which fall into 2 categories:

  • grade-based acceleration (grade skipping), which shortens the number of years of K-12 education
  • subject-based acceleration, which allows for advanced content earlier than usual.

The Acceleration Institute has gathered a substantial body of research in the 2004 report, A Nation Deceived, and its follow-on report, A Nation Empowered.

The research convincingly demonstrates that academic acceleration produces notable academic gains for bright students. The research also indicated small to moderate social-emotional gains.

Unfortunately, many schools and school districts do not embrace the concepts of acceleration for gifted students or, when they do, they are implemented in a piecemeal fashion. A 2008 report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that 63 percent of teachers opposed grade skipping, and 46 percent said their schools didn’t allow it. Another 27 percent said they weren’t sure what their schools’ policies were, which means that it probably doesn’t happen too often. We called districts all over the country to ask if they accelerated their gifted students. Few did. What Ever Happened to Grade Skipping?

So, even though the costs of implementing a rigorous acceleration program in schools is low (and relatively easy), many gifted students languish in the boredom and ennui of sitting through classes that neither interest nor challenge them. This is a great loss, both on an individual and collective basis.