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University of Iowa News Release

April 6, 2006

UI Center To Research Academic Acceleration With $1.95 Million Grant

The John Templeton Foundation has awarded the University of Iowa's center for gifted education research a three-year, $1.95 million grant to establish a program dedicated to the study of academic acceleration, a term for academic interventions ranging from Advanced Placement courses to grade-skipping.

Officials with the UI's Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development say that to their knowledge the tentatively named "Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration" will be the first of its kind in the nation.

"This research grant is a significant marker for the future of the Belin-Blank Center," said Belin-Blank Center Director Nicholas Colangelo, Ph.D. "Acceleration is the most controversial curriculum intervention in gifted education, yet is has had considerable research validation. It is time for a new generation of studies on acceleration and a coordination of information.

"The institute will not only initiate new research on acceleration, but will act as a national clearinghouse for information and become a partner with individuals and institutions also doing research on acceleration," he added. "My hope is that several years from now the Belin-Blank Center will become widely recognized for its research on acceleration and for its advocacy of educational practices based on the research."

College of Education Dean Sandra Damico said the grant is evidence that the center is tapping into issues of vital interest to scholars, educators and parents of gifted students.

"It's terribly exciting to have on the University of Iowa campus a center that's clearly at the forefront of gifted education research," Damico said. "Dr. Colangelo and his staff have truly made a mark in the field, and I expect many more great things to come from them in the future."

Colangelo said there's a significant need to compile and make public hard research on acceleration because of prevailing perceptions among many K-12 educators that such interventions pose social and psychological risks to students and divert limited resources from already strapped schools. These perceptions, he said, make some educators reluctant to help gifted students. As a result, such students quickly become bored, restless and discouraged.

"Acceleration has been empirically validated as the most effective academic intervention for gifted students," Colangelo said. "However, even where the research is clear, this has not translated into educational policy decisions consistent with the research. There is a disconnect between research and practice and numerous gifted students across America, who are ready to soar if allowed to proceed with this effective option, are denied the opportunity due to anti-acceleration policies."

The problem was discussed extensively in a report issued by the Belin-Blank Center in 2004 titled "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students." Authored by Colangelo, 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, the report translates the key findings of five decades of research regarding accelerated education into straightforward, bold and succinct language. A companion volume expands on those 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.

The report, also funded by the John Templeton Foundation and endorsed by the National Association for Gifted Children, dispels many of the myths about accelerated education and argues that far more harm than good comes from holding back students, not only to the students themselves but to society.

The report is now in its third printing, and 36,000 paper copies have been distributed since the report came out. Additionally, more than 1.2 million users have visited the report's companion Website -- http://www.nationdeceived.org -- and downloaded more than 47,000 copies of a PDF version of the report. It was featured prominently in the Sept. 20, 2004 issue of Time magazine for an article titled "Saving the Smart Kids: Are Schools Leaving the Most Gifted Children Behind if They Don't Allow Them to Skip Ahead?"

Colangelo said that creating an institute for accelerated education research is a logical next step toward addressing many of the questions raised in "A Nation Deceived." And he said the Belin-Blank Center, as an international leader in gifted education, is a natural place to house such it.

The institue will focus on specific kinds of acceleration, which can include early entrance to kindergarten or first grade, skipping of a whole grade, single-subject acceleration (for instance, in math), early entrance to college. Additionally, the program will examine the long-term effects of acceleration in both the academic and social realms, on schools as well as on students.

Other possible areas of research include the prevalence of acceleration across the country, opportunities for the interface of acceleration with other programs, acceleration and "twice-exceptional" students (gifted students with disabilities), and the impact of acceleration research on colleges of education, which prepare future teachers and school administrators who will have to identify and help gifted students.

Established within the UI College of Education in 1988, the Belin-Blank Center specializes in programming and research to meet the educational needs of exceptionally talented children and their teachers. It conducts an extensive roster of talent searches, pre-college programs, teacher training workshops and counseling programs. It also has partnerships with programs in other countries, making it both a national and an international force.

Additionally, the center developed and published the "Iowa Acceleration Scale," which is used nationally and internationally in the decision-making process for whole-grade acceleration. It has programs that target teachers and students in nearly every grade level and from a variety of backgrounds. Its summer programs have drawn almost 10,000 students from elementary school through high school, and from both rural and urban areas, to take part in hands-on programs in the arts, humanities, mathematics and science.

The center's Invent Iowa program encourages students in elementary, middle and high school to create inventions and other innovations. In 1999 the center launched the National Academy of Arts, Sciences and Engineering (NAASE), which gives students with high academic ability a chance to experience the stimulation of university research and course work at the University of Iowa after completing their junior year of high school.

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen J. Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu