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The Effects of Acceleration on High-Ability Learners: A Meta-Analysis

Current empirical research about the effects of acceleration on high-ability learners’ academic achievement and social— emotional development were synthesized using meta-analytic techniques. A total of 38 primary studies conducted between 1984 and 2008 were included. The results were broken down by developmental level (P-12 and postsecondary) and comparison group (whether the accelerants were compared with same-age, older, or mixed-age peers). The findings are consistent with the conclusions from previous meta-analytic studies, suggesting that acceleration had a positive impact on high-ability learners’ academic achievement (g = 0.180, 95% CI = -.072, .431, under a random-effects model). In addition, the social—emotional development effects appeared to be slightly positive (g = 0.076, 95% CI = -.025, .176, under a random-effects model), although not as strong as for academic achievement. No strong evidence regarding the moderators of the effects was found.

Putting the Research to Use

The findings of this meta-analysis suggest that acceleration influences high-ability learners in positive ways, especially on academic achievement. An important message for educators, parents and students is that high-ability learners can benefit from acceleration both in the short-term and in the long run. Specifically, accelerated students tend to outperform students who are not accelerated in their performance on standardized achievement tests, college grades, degrees obtained, status of universities or colleges attended, and career status. Accelerants equal or surpass non-accelerants in self-concept, self-esteem, self-confidence, social relationships, participation in extracurricular activities, and life satisfaction. It is informative for policy-makers that acceleration programs, especially university-based early college entrance programs, have been frequently assessed and appear to be the most effective. In summary, acceleration can be effective both in K-12 education and in college. Parents are encouraged to consider acceleration for their academically talented children and educators are encouraged to make acceleration options available.

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Aiken, L.R. ( 2004). Psychological testing and assessment. New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon. 
*Ambruster, R.L. ( 1995). The effectiveness of an early entrance screening instrument as an accurate predictor of success in elementary grades (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville .