Accelerated Learning and Enhanced Instruction

November 22, 2018 1:55 PM Comment(s) By Austina

Washington state’s laws around highly capable programs are deceptively open-ended. Unlike in other states, there are no explicit qualification criteria, no mandated tests, and districts have quite a bit of latitude in designing a program that meets their students’ needs. However, that flexibility does come with some important requirements. While Washington doesn’t legislate the specifics, there are guard rails in the law that govern which services are provided, regardless of how that is accomplished. 

The first sentence of RCW 28A.185.020 states: 

“The legislature finds that, for highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to a basic education.” 

There’s a lot going on in that simple statement. Taken together, this statement lays out several clear tests we can use to assess whether a school district’s highly capable services are meeting state law or not. Let’s unpack it bit by bit. 

Starting at the end, highly capable services are part of “basic education” in Washington state. That means that highly capable services are not a choice program, or a “nice to have.” All school districts are required to offer highly capable services, just like special education. So, highly capable services must be provided during the regular school day, not after or before school. As a basic education program, districts are required to provide any needed transportation for students. The statute goes on to say that school districts must identify students for highly capable services in grades K through 12, and must “prioritize equitable identification of low-income students.” 

Let’s come back to the middle of the sentence. These five words pack in a lot of meaning: “accelerated learning and enhanced instruction.” 

“Accelerated” means that learning is occurring at a faster pace and/or at a higher grade level. Students who qualify for highly capable services are often already working one or more grade levels ahead of their age mates, and we want schools to be meeting them at their current readiness level. Note that accelerated learning does not mean greater volume of work within the same standards, but moving students forward to new standards that they have not yet mastered. Washington state expects highly capable students to be experiencing accelerated learning. One of the longest running studies on this population, the Study for Mathematically Precocious Youth, quantitatively demonstrates that acceleration is the single most important indicator of success for highly capable students, even decades into their adulthood. 

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