Thanks to an acceleration law championed by Sen. Kimberly Lightford and Rep. Camille Lilly, thousands of advanced learners from across Illinois will now have a new opportunity to take courses that meet their intellectual needs. 

The upcoming school year will be the first year the state’s new acceleration law goes into effect, requiring all school districts to allow advanced learners to enter school early, enroll in above-grade-level courses, or skip grades if they are deemed eligible for acceleration. 

This means that the 4-year-old who knows how to read can now enter kindergarten, that the sixth-grader who understands algebra can now sit in on an eighth-grade class and that the high school junior who has already earned all the credits they need to graduate can now graduate early.

Both Sen. Lightford and Rep. Lilly saw how impactful this bill could be in Illinois. Together they worked tirelessly to shepherd it through the legislative process and convince their colleagues that it was an initiative worth supporting. 

Before the passage of the law, it was up to school districts whether they wanted to accelerate students. Even though acceleration is one of the most well-researched and effective educational interventions, most didn’t, according to a report by the Illinois Association of Gifted Children. 

The excuses ranged from the reasonable — worries about how accelerated students would be treated in classes with older students — to the absurd — the lack of need for the policy because “our school district is full of low-income students.” 

The success of the bill is also thanks to the hard work of organizations like the Illinois Association for Gifted Children, the Untapped Potential Project, the Midwest Center for the Gifted, America Succeeds, the National Association for Gifted Children, The Belin-Bank Center, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. 

Other advocates, including former teachers of gifted students as well as administrators that understand the importance of meeting the needs of advanced learners in their districts, also deserve praise. 

Illinois still has a long way to go to fully serve its advanced learners. Most school districts do not offer gifted programming. But, for those advanced learners who would otherwise be relegated to sit in a classroom learning content they already know, acceleration is a first step in the right direction.

Joshua Dwyer, policy director

Empower Illinois