Many parents of the gifted provide their children with outside opportunities for challenging, accelerated learning. Supplemental courses of high quality have never been more engaging or available through so many venues. Computer-based or online courses, independent-learning and correspondence programs, and university-sponsored classes held on college campuses are offered on a wide assortment of subjects, many of which may not be available in the children’s school (e.g., Chinese conversation, marine biology, and advanced computer applications). Plenty of students are enticed by these more interesting offerings, but just as many take classes in more traditional subjects (often math and science) to advance their learning and to be challenged in core subject areas.
Therein lies a dilemma. Taking an advanced course outside school tends to widen the gap between a student’s competence in an academic subject and the material that the school offers in his or her grade. However, successful completion of such a course may not automatically result in advancement to a higher-level class; students and parents often discover that persistent advocating and careful documentation are required for the school to consider such a move.
Parents usually find that what seems to be immovability on the school’s part boils down to inadequate staffing due to insufficient funding, logistical problems, and, sometimes, social concerns for the child:
- Inadequate staffing is a concern in many public schools. Administrators usually base the upcoming year’s classes on a population count at a particular point in time and staff their school accordingly. Although last-minute shifts are expected, sometimes an already full classroom cannot accommodate even one more student.
- Logistical concerns such as midday transportation to a distant school building or conflicting class schedules may be cited as a problem. Parents can help the school brainstorm solutions if they anticipate these types of barriers.
- The school may also point to social concerns as a roadblock to a child’s acceleration. But most accelerated students mesh well with their new classroom and often have two groups of friends: their grade-level peers and their intellectual peers, who are typically found in the advanced classes.
What can parents do to ensure that their children obtain appropriate credit or placement for courses taken outside school? Most parents find that if they plan in advance, familiarize themselves with the school’s philosophy about acceleration, and communicate with teachers and administrators prior to enrolling their children in such enrichment classes, they can achieve excellent results. Consider these guidelines as you take a proactive approach:
- Alert the school as early as possible to the prospect of your child’s joining an advanced class in a particular subject, so that he or she can be penciled onto the class roll well in advance of actually joining it.
- When considering an outside course, request a syllabus from the organization’s curriculum director, and provide your child’s home school with an overview of the course.
- Find out whether this additional coursework aligns with what is taught at your child’s school and whether the course may be substituted for the regularly paced class.
- Request that your child be assessed after he or she completes the course, with the option of testing out of the next slated class in that subject.
In some states and school districts, the acceleration process is more routine. Some schools accommodate students who take part in advanced courses outside school by offering cross-grade level instruction; the schools may even pay for such courses if they are deemed necessary and are unavailable through the school district. Likewise, gifted students who reside in states that require an individualized education plan (IEP) for gifted students or instructional management–type plans can use the annual conference with school personnel to discuss and agree on ways that additional coursework should be handled in the year ahead.
Regardless of their situation or the state they live in, parents should find that in most cases, when given the opportunity and the means, schools are happy to meet all of the needs of their exceptional students.
Susan Ludwig is a teacher and freelance writer who holds a master’s degree in educational leadership, with an emphasis in exceptional student education, from Florida Atlantic University.