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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 20, 2004

'A Nation Deceived' Report Argues Gifted Children Often Kept Behind

When a high-school student graduates with the reading skills of a sixth-grader, it is called a failure of the education system.

But what do you call it when a sixth-grader who is able to read at the level of a high-school graduate is forced to languish in a class that doesn't challenge her to her fullest academic potential?

Experts in the field of gifted education call it a travesty, and several experts from across the country have contributed their insights and research to a new national report being released today that calls on K-12 educators to be more proactive, and less reactive, in identifying and assisting academically precocious students.

The two-volume report, "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students," was spearheaded by The University of Iowa's Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. The first volume translates the key findings of five decades of research into straightforward, bold and succinct language, while the second expands on these findings in 11 chapters written by leading researchers. Topics include entering school early, grade-skipping, high school challenges, Advanced Placement courses and how adults who were accelerated in school now feel about their experiences.

Funded by the John Templeton Foundation and endorsed by the National Association for Gifted Children, the report is being made available at no charge to schools, parents and media across the country. A website dedicated to the report's findings can be viewed at www.nationdeceived.org, where a PDF version of the report may also be downloaded.

The report dispels many of the myths about accelerated education and argues that far more harm than good can come from holding back students, not only to the students themselves, but to society. Consider, for instance, that among those who benefited from accelerated education include Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Jr., who graduated from high school at 15; author, sociologist and civil rights leader W.E.B. Dubois, who grade-skipped and graduated from high school at 16; writer Eudora Welty; poet T.S. Eliot; Joshua Lederberg, an expert in the fields of medicine and physiology and the youngest recipient of the Nobel Laureate; scientists James Watson and Charles Townes; and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who graduated from high school at 16.

"This is a wake-up call to educators and parents that this country is squandering, quite literally, the academic talent of thousands of students who ask nothing more than to be challenged in the classroom," said Belin-Blank Center Director Nicholas Colangelo, Ph.D., the report's lead author. "There are simple, inexpensive and highly effective tools available to help teachers identify and assist these students toward reaching their potential. But too often, for fear of upsetting the status quo or simply out of ignorance, schools turn their backs on some of the country's most promising students."

As a result, Colangelo said, such students quickly become bored, restless and discouraged. And contrary to what many critics of gifted education may believe, the students who stand to lose the most in this environment are minorities, students from low-income families and those in inner-city and rural schools.

"Families with money, social standing and other resources can hire private tutors, attend school board meetings and rattle cages to get what they want for their gifted students," Colangelo said. "But for many families these are not options, so they are left at the discretion of individual teachers to take up their cause. We hope this report will help more educators do just that."

Funded by a $261,800 grant from the Templeton Foundation, "A Nation Deceived" is one of the most comprehensive syntheses to date of research on academic acceleration, a term that covers such practices as grade-skipping, early entrance to college, single-subject acceleration and Advanced Placement (AP) courses and programs.

The report is coauthored by Belin-Blank Center Associate Director Susan Assouline, Ph.D., and Miraca Gross, Ph.D., a professor of gifted education at the University of New South Wales in Australia. It includes contributions from some of the country's top researchers and practitioners in the area of academic acceleration, including Linda E. Brody and Julian C. Stanley of Johns Hopkins University, Ann E. Lupkowski-Shoplik of Carnegie Mellon University, David Lubinski of Vanderbilt University and James A. Kulik of the University of Michigan.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack praised the report.

"I would like to thank and congratulate Dr. Colangelo, Dr. Assouline, and all of the researchers who contributed to this important study," Vilsack said. "The University of Iowa's Belin-Blank Center has performed a valuable service to highlight the importance of creating appropriate educational opportunities for highly gifted young people." 

Colangelo said he hopes the report will help debunk some of the myths that plague accelerated education, including the notion that grade-skipping and similar practices have adverse psychological, social or emotional effects on students. He said some of these concerns may stem from the disproportionate attention given to highly unusual cases, such as students still in their teens who are accepted by medical or law schools.

In most cases, he said, a student may simply be ready cognitively to take courses in a particular subject area at a slightly higher level than is offered at his or her grade level, or to move up a grade or two.

"The evidence so far indicates that accelerated education helps students in both the short- and long-term," he said.

Unfortunately, he said, many educators are unprepared or unwilling to help students and parents adequately assess -- and meet -- the gifted child's needs. They may not want to appear to be giving preferential treatment to such students. Or they may fear that the cost of helping students with accelerated education will greatly exceed allocated per-pupil funding.

The truth, Colangelo said, is that costs for accommodating gifted students are often minimal.

"What does it cost a school to skip a child from, say, grade three to grade five?" Colangelo said. "Nothing. It's easy, and it's cost-efficient."

Students who take AP courses also save considerable money by taking college-level classes without incurring tuition. Nationally, more than a million students took at least one AP exam last year.

"It's an interesting dilemma," Colangelo said. "Academic acceleration is probably the most researched intervention in K-12 education, with the most consistent and most positive results. And yet it has not translated into practices in schools."

He said the report is intended not as an indictment of today's educators but as a wake-up call to America about the enormous loss of potential to schools, families and the nation when academically precocious students are denied access to opportunities for academic advancement.

He said the Belin-Blank Center was uniquely qualified to lead this study. In addition to serving as one of its coauthors, Assouline is the principal author of The Iowa Acceleration Scale, the nation's only tool for helping educators determine whether gifted and talented students in kindergarten through eighth grade should bypass a grade level. And the center itself is one of the nation's leaders in promoting the use of online AP classes through its Iowa Online AP Academy.

This fall, nearly 300 schools in Iowa are participating in the program and more than 650 students are enrolled this fall in online and ICN AP classes, up from 462 students enrolled in IOAPA courses in fall 2003.

"The prospect of accelerating students still raises hesitancy," Colangelo said. 

"Educators are still misinformed or rely on a personal philosophy that all students should remain with their own age groups at all times under all circumstances. While that might serve a school's interests, clearly it does not serve the student who is ready, willing and able to tackle greater challenges."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu; Program: Nicholas Colangelo, director of the Belin-Blank Center, 319-335-6148, nick-colangelo@uiowa.edu

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.