Acceleration for at-risk students

Fifty-three schools across the country are currently participating in the Accelerated Schools Project. The Project was started in 1986 at Stanford University’s Center for Educational Research. Its Director and Associate Director, Henry M. Levin and Wendy S. Hopfenberg, report that the Accelerated Schools Project was developed after it was found that two decades of remedial education had achieved little success with at-risk students.

High expectations and enriched curriculum

According to these researchers, reduced expectations, the stigmatization of remedial class placement and uninspiring instructional programs contributed to the failure of remedial programs to produce increased achievement among the at-risk population. Levin and Hopfenberg state that the Accelerated Schools Project is designed to accelerate the academic progress of at-risk students through a combination of high expectations and an enriched curriculum built around student strengths. Its goal is to achieve greater than average academic gains to that these at-risk students can actually catch up to the mainstream population.

The mission of each school participating in the Accelerated Schools Project is high achievement for all students, and this is the focus of everyone connected with the school – students, teachers, parents and administration. It is the basis for all the decisions and efforts made by parents and staff. Again, schools in the Project are structured to take advantage of students’ strengths rather than to remediate their weaknesses. Strengths may include interest in oral and artistic expression, an ability to learn through manipulation and to work eagerly at intrinsically interesting tasks and a capacity to learn to write without first mastering reading. An emphasis on reading and writing for meaning is established in the early grades. The Project stresses a language-based approach across all subjects, including mathematics. Learning activities are frequently planned around the predominant cultures of the student population. Active learning experiences involve independent projects, problem solving and working with manipulatives. Abstract concepts are applied to real-life problems and events to make them more meaningful to students.

Families play a central role in the running of an Accelerated School. Parents and staff make decisions together and teachers depend on parents to work with them in the classrooms. Teachers in Accelerated Schools are expected to develop creative ideas for accelerating student progress and are responsible for making decisions concerning curricula, materials and teaching styles. The principal coordinates and facilitates the activities of the decision-making groups within the school, identifies and cultivates talent among the staff, keeps the school focused on its mission and works with parents and the community. The district office supports the school with information, technical assistance, staff development and appropriate assessment systems.

“Don’t Remediate: Accelerate!” Principal January 1991, p. 11-13

Published in ERN March/April 1991 Volume 4 Number 2


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