Arrow Accelerated Academy: Nontraditional school students outperform traditionally schooled peers

Arrow Accelerated Academy students in Naperville have never taken a test at school. And they haven’t been assigned homework either. Oh, and did we mention they don’t have teachers?

So how is it possible that students at a school without tests, homework, or teachers are performing nearly 2 grades higher than their traditionally schooled peers?

The answer is their innovative model of education.

Arrow Accelerated Academy is one of 250 plus Acton Academies throughout the world that have taken everything we have come to expect of a traditional school experience and turned it upside down. This means taking what science has taught us about how children learn best and creating an environment where research-based approaches to learning are prioritized. Gone are hours sitting in rows of desks, rote work sheets, memorization and regurgitation of facts just to pass a test, and learning from just one single expert at the front of a classroom.

Instead, these students are educated via a personalized learning plan that integrates adaptive software, hands-on projects, Socratic discussions, and curiosity-based explorations of topics the students themselves are passionate about.

Learners work at their own pace in the mornings to demonstrate their understanding of reading, writing, and math, often working multiple grade levels ahead due to the ability to work at a level appropriate for their understanding, not just their age. Their afternoons are spent solving relevant problems through project-based learning that integrates STEM, the arts, and even business and entrepreneurship.

Technology gives them access to the world’s best teachers at their fingertips so the adults at the school, Guides, can better assist their learning as coaches and mentors as they master academic content, practice life skills, and pursue their curiosities.

Gina Curtis, founder of Naperville’s own Acton Academy, is confident that the model works, but wanted to quite literally “put it to the test.”

“After two and a half years of anecdotally seeing our learners meet and exceed traditional learning standards, we wanted to see if standardized testing data would reflect the same thing.” So this winter, the learners at Arrow Accelerated Academy took their first test at school.

“We have done absolutely no preparation. Our learners don’t spend countless hours in school preparing for standardized tests. That time can be used in much more important ways,” Curtis said.

Despite the lack of preparation, the students’ scores on the IOWA assessment reflected what Curtis and her staff expected. Taking into account all of the scores from students kindergarten through 12th grade, Arrow Accelerated Academy students scored on average nearly 2 grades above their peers, and the results were even higher in individual subjects, including science.

“I was not surprised to find that every one of our learners is reading at or above grade level,” says Sarah Iazzetto, Arrow Guide and previous public school teacher. Students are given time to read for enjoyment every day and are given the freedom to read the books that are of interest to them, not just what is assigned to them. “They are becoming lifelong readers and therefore, lifelong learners.”

The majority of middle school and high school aged students in the program scored at a college level on tests of writing, reading, math, and science. This will serve them well as they move into the school’s capstone program, where they will be completing apprenticeships in the professional fields of interest to them, creating their own businesses, and preparing for life after graduation in some of the most competitive colleges and universities in the country.

These results are even more significant for students who have been with the school since its opening in 2021. “These results assure us that our nontraditional approach to learning is working. Over time, we’re seeing the young people at our school grow in their knowledge, but more importantly, we’re seeing growth in so many other areas that can’t be measured by standardized tests. Their curiosity, confidence, and passion for learning are off the charts. And that’s what matters most.”

Arrow Accelerated Academy is located on Northern Illinois University’s Naperville campus at 1120 E. Diehl Road in Naperville. The school has programs for preschool through 12th graders, and offers summer camps as well as an annual Children’s Business Fair. More information, including enrollment and tuition, can be found at

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