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Adventures in Math Acceleration

November 14, 2013

No other arrangement for gifted children works as well as acceleration.

“Adult surveys of gifted individuals reveal that they do not regret their acceleration. Rather, they regret not having accelerated more.” – The Journal of Applied Psychology, Lubinski, Webb, et al. (2001)

“Meta-analytic reviews have consistently concluded that education acceleration helps students academically without shortchanging them socially and emotionally”. – James A. Kulik, The University of Michigan

This past summer we embarked on a journey, a journey of acceleration in math.

It was time.  It was past time.  Our daughters had been complaining since entering school that they weren’t learning anything in math and the tests showed that was true.  Our eldest daughter, entering fourth grade, and our middle daughter, entering second grade, had both been tested for acceleration in math in the past.  Each time they were given the end of the year test and each time scored in the mid to upper 70 percents.  While this may not sound high, it meant that only 20-25% of the material in math that year would be new and the bulk would be review of concepts they already knew.  However, Rochester Community Schools requires 90% to accelerate in math and they had not met that standard.

It is tough to accelerate in math in Rochester Community Schools.  While many districts recommend 80% on the end of the year test for acceleration, RCS’s standard is higher and more difficult to obtain.  In addition, Everyday Math, also known as Chicago Math, covers a vast number of topics superficially each year instead of the in-depth study of a few areas most students in the 1980s did.  (Common Core is expected to change to in-depth study, but the results remain to be seen.)  Our daughters were answering correctly on the areas they had been exposed to, but there were concepts they hadn’t been introduced to that they could not correctly answer.  Not having been exposed to a few of the 20 or so topics each year means the student does not pass.

In addition, instruction in the district is not set up to accelerate a student to the next year’s material.  Differentiation in the Math Workshop model and using Everyday Math’s extension worksheets does not move the student to the next concept but digs deeper into the current topic, resulting in the problem stated previously.  Teachers also have limited time to differentiate instruction, have many levels to differentiate for, and are under considerable pressure by “No Child Left Behind” and the state to use that time on the struggling student.  We have had teachers who have told us they don’t have time to differentiate, provided differentiated worksheets without differentiated instruction, or stated that they should not be expected to know the next year’s curriculum.  We do not blame the teachers.  It is the system that is broken.

We hated that our daughters were not learning at an appropriate level in math.  Reading and writing allowed so much more differentiation than math and we felt that they were learning new material.  We decided to take matters into our own hands and accelerate them ourselves.  It felt like gaming the system, but in this case the system needed to be gamed.

Our first step was to agree as a family that this was important to us.  Did they want to accelerate?  Yes.  Were they willing to put the time in to accelerate?  Yes.  This is not a commitment to be taken lightly!  We also confirmed with our principal that our daughters would be accelerated if they knew the material.

Our next step was to order the two math journals (found under Student Re-Order Materials) for the next year.  We ordered them via McGraw Hill Education as homeschoolers.  We did not order the Reference Book, Home Links, or Teacher’s Reference Manual, but those may be recommended based on your comfort with the methods.  Everyday Math uses a variety of methods not used in the classroom 20 years ago, but an Internet search can find them.  However, this is not as easy as using the book, so you may want to borrow or buy them.   If your district uses a different series or publisher, make sure you order those.

The summer began – and so did the work.  It’s a lot of work.  Immense credit must go to my wife.  She did the vast majority of instructing, checking work, correcting, and making sure our daughters covered enough lessons each day.  Our daughters also deserve a lot of praise for their effort.  They did two to three lessons each day, every day.  They very much wanted to accelerate in math and mostly motivated themselves to do their math work, but did need prodding because there are so many more fun ways to spend a summer.  This is an investment of time.  We did also have a system of rewards for finishing units that we allowed them to choose.  One wanted extra treats the next day and the other wanted to choose a family dinner menu.  Finishing a journal (there are two per year) warranted a trip out for ice cream or other celebration.

It was more work than expected.  Plan on your children spending an hour each day on math.  Plan on spending about 20 minutes a day per child checking work.  Depending on the concepts and your child’s initial level will determine the amount of instruction needed.  Some topics needed no instruction and the journal led them through the material.  Some were completely new or had methods they did not know and instruction was very necessary.  In some areas, we had to learn techniques before passing them on.

They finished their math journals just as the school year began.  On our “meet the teacher” day, we stopped by the Learning Consultant’s office and signed them up for testing for acceleration.  At that point, it was pretty much out of our hands and the waiting began.  It was several days before the tests, which spanned two days, and then a few more days waiting for the tests to be corrected and the results disclosed.   Meanwhile the girls were in their grade-level math classes.

Early one morning, the call came that both girls had passed and would be accelerated!  There was much joy in our house that day.  Our fourth grader is in a 4/5 split this year, so she just has to change desks during math class.  Our second grader walks down the hall for her third grade math class.  Both have been accepted by their new classmates and we haven’t encountered any social issues with this acceleration.

Both girls have done well so far this year.  They find math class much more enjoyable and the complaints about it being too easy have stopped.  It has definitely been a good decision!

The Lessons

We definitely learned from our experience.  It was not as easy as we thought it would be.

1) Start early!  We started near the beginning of summer after allowing them a break from schoolwork.  To complete both journals by the end of the summer requires 2-3 lessons per day or about 1 hour worth of work.  We recommend beginning about 2-3 months into the school year and doing 1 lesson per day.  This keeps it at a standard classroom pace and also allows your child to have some math at his level during the school year.

2) Correct daily.  We did little daily instruction.  Most of the time we set our girls down with the math journal and had them ask questions as necessary.  This usually worked and I got a bit lazy about checking math journals to make sure they were understanding the material.  A few times they had not and the problems compounded before we could set them on the right path.  Checking daily helps to discover if they are having difficulty.

3) Research the techniques.  Some of the methods used today were not taught in school years ago.  The internet was very helpful in learning the new techniques such as “Regrouping” and “Lattice Multiplication”.  One bonus of beginning during the school year is being able to ask teachers at their school for assistance.

4) Find out what is needed.  In addition to the curriculum found in the math journals, some grades have additional requirements.  Our elementary schools also have “Mad Minutes”, 30 addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division problems to be completed in 1 minute.  I wrote my own Mad Minute generator in Microsoft Access.  If you would like a copy, please send me an email via the contact page.  You’ll need MS Access 2007 or later to run the program.

5) Get the materials.  We only got the math journals, but you may feel that you need the Reference Book or Teacher’s Reference Manual.  You may be able to borrow one from the school.  Again, make sure that you order the materials your district uses.

6) Confirm with your principal.  Find out if acceleration is possible, what score is needed, how acceleration will occur, and what will happen if your child completes the math program but doesn’t get a high enough score.  Luckily our principals are gifted-friendly, but do not make that assumption!

7) Prepare to work hard!  This is a family endeavor and requires a family commitment.

District Support

Some districts provide more support than others.  Some may provide the materials.  A teacher may be willing to provide some guidance.  A gifted-friendly district may even provide summer classes for a fee to help accelerate advanced students.  It is worth checking with your district to see if any support is offered.

Best of luck on accelerating your gifted learner!

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE.  Together we can make a difference for gifted children!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Bridget permalink
    November 14, 2013 9:49 AM

    Fantastic!!! So excited for your girls! WOW, a 4/5 split classroom I thought that was a thing of the past, wish our school did that. Also, this is the first I’m hearing about an end of the year testing for accelerating math – every time we’ve asked if something like this is available they tell us nothing like this exists – is there a specific name for it? Congrats to your girls and your family and thanks for paving the way for others!

    • November 14, 2013 9:55 AM

      I’m not sure if there is a specific name for it. We’ve never used one. We just asked for them to be tested for partial acceleration in math. These tests do exist in Rochester Community Schools and the Learning Consultant should certainly know about them. Let me know if the LC at your school has not.

    • Sybil permalink
      November 15, 2013 1:02 AM

      Thank you for this post. We are lazily accelerating our 2nd grader’s math at home by teaching her our 4th grader’s math homework, but aren’t sure what to do with our 4th grader! So far it doesn’t appear they use any math books at all (the teacher writes out everything and they do the math in a notebook), so I need to find out how to get a hold of the curriculum.
      Random question, but if a child isn’t going to be accelerated in the classroom, do you see any harm in accelerating at home? It is really fun for my 2nd grader now, but I worry how much more bored she will be with math as she progresses and has already learned it!

      • November 15, 2013 9:38 AM

        Sybil, depending on where you live, your state may mandate that as a parent you have the right to see the curriculum. You may be able to talk to the teacher to get her curriculum for the year and even talk to the teachers or the school’s learning consultant to get the curriculum for future years.

        I can’t think of any harm done accelerating at home. There are always negatives, but I would say that the positives far outweigh the negatives. And while it may be ‘acceleration’ in the school system, at home it is really matching your child to appropriate material and ‘normal’. School is an age-based system. Home is an ability-based system.

  2. Mike Reno permalink
    November 14, 2013 12:19 PM

    So glad to hear this, Joshua.

    The “Place Out” of the classes is really such a dumb and thoughtless approach… as if there is some innate knowledge of math that would allow them to pass a test on material to which they have not been exposed.

    Your next challenge will be the pace of learning at their new level. I suspect you will soon find that they are bored in their new levels. The problem is not the level of math… it is the pace at which they are being fed. Rochester is not fond of accelerated learners because it disrupts the factory flow.

    Perhaps what might be helpful is if they would start supplementing with challenging exercises that allow the kids to utilize the math in science projects?

    • November 14, 2013 1:20 PM

      Mike, I agree. Pacing will probably remain an issue in RCS. It did for me during school, which is why after accelerating in fifth grade to six grade math, I was accelerated two years later yet again. Thankfully my high school was progressive enough that they combined geometry and algebra 2 into one class and trigonometry and pre-calculus into one class for honors students. The double-time pacing was right for the majority of gifted students at my school.

      I would very much like to see RCS explore mastery-based learning where students move on to the next topic as soon as they have mastered the current one. It allows gifted students to move at a quicker pace and allows students struggling in an area to not be frustrated when the class moves on before they comprehend it. The results of mastery-based learning have been excellent, but it is such a huge shift from traditional learning that only bold administrators are willing to explore it, even in a magnet program. RCS is probably too content in its current standings to try something so innovative, even though I believe there are groups of parents and teachers who would be willing to try it.

  3. Abigail permalink
    November 14, 2013 10:28 PM

    This is why we decided to homeschool. We can accelerate in other subjects, slow down, or go-in depth in any topic that interests our children. They can pursue their talents and passions. No need for busy work or wasted time. They have lots of enrichment activities, field trips, clubs, and friends.

    • November 18, 2013 2:42 PM

      Home schooling is a phenomenal choice for differentiation and acceleration! So many gifted families choose to home school because they are not having their needs met in traditional schools.

  4. November 18, 2013 8:33 AM

    Congratulations on your family’s hard work and success! Your article comes at an interesting time for me….only yesterday I decided I would see if I could manage to get an advanced math placement for my son. Your experience is helpful, thanks for sharing!

    • November 18, 2013 2:43 PM

      Maggie, best of luck in getting the advanced math placement!

      • December 4, 2013 3:38 PM

        Hi again Joshua …can you tell me which materials you ordered to do “homeschooling” math with your girls? I went to order some materials but there were so many choices, I didn’t know what I needed for sure. Thanks!

      • December 4, 2013 5:20 PM

        Nevermind…just re-read your post and found my answer! :)

  5. November 30, 2013 4:11 PM

    Our district uses Everyday Math for the lower and the “spiral” nature of the curriculum has been a challenge for us because there’s so much review. Unfortunately, we’re out of acceleration options at our school because she would need to move to the middle school for that and the logistics don’t work. Neither does the teacher have time for meaningful differentiation.

    We’re moving to a new district in the next several weeks so we’re hopeful for new opportunities. One thing that we’ve considered are the EPGY online classes. We utilized the self-directed program in kindergarten & second grade to make sure she was up to speed for her grade acceleration. This may be an option in your situation.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • December 2, 2013 1:32 PM

      One request we have made of our Director of K-8 Education is distance learning for the fifth graders taking middle school math. That may be a possibility if the school district is supportive of gifted learners.

      A wise district could also use this with new laws in Michigan to teach advanced students from other districts and receive some of their per pupil allotment. It will be interesting to see which district in Michigan starts offering distance learning classes for gifted learners in other districts and solve some of their financial problems.

  6. anna permalink
    February 8, 2014 4:34 AM

    it is great that it worked for your girls. We are not that lucky. I have a 2nd grader finishing the 6th grade math work book, and the school is refusing no only to accelerate, but to test him.

    • February 8, 2014 9:33 AM

      Anna, have you taken this up levels yet? If the principal refuses, talk to any curriculum director or asst. superintendent in your district and then to the superintendent. If you still get refusals. email the Board of Education and go to a BOE meeting to speak about this issue. You may need to get on the schedule in advance.

      If that doesn’t work, find someone who knows education law. Your son may have the right to test out of courses in your state. Even if nothing exists in the law, a strongly-worded letter from a lawyer or threat of lawsuit has been known to get change accomplished.

      • anna permalink
        February 8, 2014 11:35 PM

        Joshua, we had a meeting with the principal, teacher and the person in charge of GATE from our SFUSD. They turned it all around the social/emotional/behavioral readiness, or, rather not readiness of my son for the higher grade. There was no talk about accelerating in one subject only, because he is also ahead in English, although not as much as in math. He is only done with the 4th grade by now, and still needs to work more on writing, I mean stories and such. I am pretty much thinking that I’ll just have to continue to do what I am doing now- homeschooling after school. Though your comment makes me think of trying the school district again on the next level, and see what will they tell me.

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