Skipping a Grade: Should Gifted Children Move Ahead?

Back in the mid-1980s, when I was moving through elementary school, I was identified as a “gifted and talented” student on the basis of standardized tests and classroom performance. Administrators and teachers approached my mother, who was already mildly suspicious of educators and rather protective of her only child, about a gifted student program – and even the possibility of my skipping a grade. I was identified as frequently “bored” or “impatient with classmates” even though I was already grouped with the brighter kids (This was back when my school actually numbered each class with a subscript based on talent: 2^1 were the smartest second graders, 2^2 were the next smartest, and so on.)

No one in my family had ever gone to college, let alone garnered any expertise on the intellectual development of children, so my mother had to rely on her intuition and the suggestions of school personnel she largely distrusted. Though she initially turned down all attempts to accelerate me, she eventually agreed to gifted classes (IEPs, etc.) and to other special assignments. But she stopped me short of skipping a grade. In my case, I believe she probably made a wise decision – balancing extra instruction and intellectual challenges with the opportunity to stand out from the pack while learning tact and patienceâÂ?¦.something that (admittedly) many of us struggle with way after school.

For as much time as researchers spend trying to define “gifted” and to study (quantitatively) the effects of grade skipping and other options, the truth is that the forms and degrees of high-end exceptionality are so varied, student backgrounds are so diverse, and schools are so different, that it must be explored qualitatively on a child-by-child basis. For some gifted children, skipping a grade might make sense. If the child can handle the adjustment and would thrive as a result of the bump – and if the parents and school staff are all on board – then it may be a viable option.

Parents of gifted children who are considering the merits of skipping a grade should consider the following:

Skipping a Grade: Were other alternatives explored?
Often, skipping a grade is the most dramatic “solution” on the table. If the main reason for the jump is to challenge and occupy the student, then parents may be able to work with teachers to obtain additional assignments or to pursue the school’s gifted program (also known as “gifted and talented education,” “education for the exceptional,” or whatever the vogue term is of late). There’s also the possibility of at-home instruction, summer programs, after-school programs, or private tutoring. A gifted student might enjoy learning a foreign language not ordinarily taught in their school. Music lessons and sports also make healthy supplements.

Skipping a Grade: Are there compelling social reasons for keeping the student in the same grade?
If the student has already developed well-rooted, healthy social connections with other classmates, the benefits of skipping a grade could be outweighed by problems like peer rejection, isolation, or the development of undue arrogance. The student’s unique social and emotional development – something that must be considered on a child-by-child basis – should always factor heavily into grade skipping discussions.

Skipping a Grade: Can it be done on a single subject basis?
It may be possible for the student to skip ahead in a particular subject while staying with grade-mates for all other classes. Although it requires a lot of teacher cooperation, this may be a prudent idea for a student who shows out-of-the-park exceptionality in, say, math but who is more moderately gifted in other subjects.

Skipping a Grade: What are the teachers’ opinions?
One thing that can make or break grade skipping is the attitude of the teachers – particularly the teacher of the higher grade. Even if parents and administrators are on board, the person responsible for implementing the change has to buy in as well. If a teacher seems hesitant and leaves you wondering whether he or she will sabotage the experience, that should give you pause. Some teachers have very strong anti-skip sentiments.

Skipping a Grade: What does the student want?
While parents shouldn’t bump a student up a grade level just because the student wants it, one thing they also shouldn’t do is move their child ahead without his or her consent. Even though some kids may be too young to understand all the implications of the decision, their feelings (including their feelings about education) are at stake. Be sure you’re not pushing a child to do something he or she isn’t ready to do, or the child may start to develop negative associations with school, begin hiding talent. or otherwise act out.

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