What is Acceleration in Education? A Definition and 4 Recommendations

by | Jun 21, 2021


Approaching the new school year, you’re likely deep in the process of researching COVID-19 learning loss recovery strategies. At the Center for Student Achievement Solutions (CSAS), we strongly recommend implementing an evidence-based acceleration strategy to support student achievement. In this article, we’ll explain what an acceleration strategy looks like, compare acceleration to a remediation approach, and offer next steps in your planning.

Definition of Acceleration

Acceleration refers to an instructional strategy that aims to help students who have fallen behind to meet or exceed grade-level learning standards. An acceleration strategy may include a variety of methods such as:

  • Differentiation — Students receive instruction that meets their individual learning levels, as measured through formative assessments during each learning unit.
  • Expanded learning time — Learning continues outside of the regular school schedule, such as before school, after school, and/or during seasonal school breaks.
  • Electives or pullouts — These classes take place during the school day. They allow students to either get extra support in the subjects where they’re struggling, or engage in extra enrichment activities to keep them engaged as learners.

There is no one-size-fits-all acceleration strategy. This means your leadership team will need to analyze student data and learn about evidence-based practices to best support your student body.

If you need support developing an acceleration strategy, you can schedule a free call with an experienced education consultant from CSAS. We would love to offer an outside perspective to your leadership team!

Acceleration vs. Remediation: What’s the Difference, and Which is Better?

Like acceleration, remediation is an instructional strategy designed to help students who are falling behind in their learning. However, the remediation approach typically involves simply reteaching previous content, often while holding students back through grade retention.

Remedial instruction may seem like an easy, straightforward solution to low student achievement. But educational research finds that remediation often does more harm than good:

  • Students in remedial classes usually end up performing lower than peers. This leads to a cycle of reteaching material without advancing students to an age-appropriate grade.
  • When students become caught in the remediation cycle, they lose confidence and motivation in their learning. This experience often leads to behavioral issues and early dropouts.
  • Remediation disproportionately impacts traditionally underserved student groups. These include students of color, students with special needs, English language learners, and students from low-income households.

Despite the good intentions underlying remediation strategies, evidence shows that remedial classes lead to more educational inequities and negative student outcomes.

How Acceleration Can Support Recovery from COVID-19 Learning Loss

We recently published an article outlining the research about COVID-19 related learning loss. Education experts recommend school leaders consider acceleration not only to help students recover from learning loss but also to help them meet or exceed grade-level standards in the 2021-2022 school year.

Here are 4 tips for school leaders to implement an effective acceleration strategy:

  1. Start by assessing students’ individual learning levels.

Before solidifying an acceleration strategy, school leaders should use assessments that determine the most critical areas of learning loss. This data can inform schoolwide curriculum and instructional decisions.

  1. Communicate clear, specific learning standards.

Your school’s previous learning goals and standards may shift as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Educational researcher Michelle Kaffenberger explains that school leaders may need to consider “adjustment (or reform) of curriculum to better match the level and pace of children’s learning”.

As your school recovers from COVID-19 learning loss, you must cast a clear vision for faculty and staff to ensure everyone is working cooperatively toward the same goals. Develop systems of shared leadership to include the voices of teachers in your decision-making and to ease the burden on any single school leader.

  1. Continue assessing student learning throughout the school year.

Your team can prepare to adapt to meet students’ needs by regularly tracking student progress with formative assessments. TNTP recommends that schools “[m]onitor students’ progress on grade-appropriate assignments and adjust supports for teachers and leaders based on student results.”

  1. Empower teachers to support all students.

Teachers rely on school leaders to provide comprehensive professional development that helps them learn and practice skills like:

  • Helping students set individual learning goals;
  • Providing individualized, actionable feedback to help students meet their goals;
  • Implementing formative assessments that track students’ progress before and during each learning unit;
  • Adapting their instruction to be responsive to students’ evolving needs;
  • Making data-driven instructional decisions to meet individual learning needs through differentiation and scaffolding; and
  • Utilizing extra supports and resources available to struggling students through the school and district.

Keep in mind that professional development must be ongoing and job-embedded to drive sustained improvements in student achievement.

CSAS partners with school and district leaders to develop a professional development strategy that meets your team’s unique needs. Schedule a free call with one of our expert consultants now to begin planning your custom, evidence-based PD plan.


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