Most schools have some form of ability grouping or tracking, typically two to four groups or levels per grade. The more able group can either go faster, go deeper, or do both.
The Current Trend:
For a variety of reasons, the most common tendency in accelerated math classes is to move these groups very quickly through the material at a level barely deeper than the regular group, ending up typically two full years ahead by Middle School (that is, 7th grade Algebra 1).
This type of acceleration, leading to college calculus in 11th grade, might be suitable for students in the top 0.1% in math ability, perhaps even a smaller group than that cours particuliers maths.
For most students in the gifted and talented group, they move through the material too fast and too young to master it, and as the level of abstraction rapidly increases in high school, somewhere around precalculus they often “hit the wall.” That is, sooner or later we’ve accelerated our bright students into incompetency.
What is Proper Enrichment for Gifted Students?
The ideal enrichment for able students is to work broader and deeper, not necessarily moving through the topics more rapidly. If you have a gifted third grader, he or she would benefit most from enrichment in the same topic the regular kids are wrestling with, multiplication.
He or she could do more, do harder and more involved problems, more interesting applications, learn other algorithms (such as Indian style — if your child really is gifted, he or she will love this), extend the topic to exponents … rather than fly through the same easy stuff the regular students are doing in three weeks and then move on to another topic.
Certainly a gifted class will also go faster. I would be highly suspicious of acceleration beyond one year above grade level in most cases, and if there is a way to avoid this and still have your child in a good class, I would do that.
Etan Savir is a 15-year math teacher and currently the math department chairman at Garrison Forrest School, a k-12 college prep school in Owings Mills, Maryland.