Thursday, December 4, 2008

Grade Skipping: An Underutilized Option for Gifted Kids

Today, most public schools merely pay lip service to the needs of gifted kids. This is the era of education "for all"--translation: low achievers. 

The research suggests that the wisest work-around often is for gifted kids to skip between one and six grades, depending on the student. Grade skipping is the only powerful school-based intervention that doesn't require great teacher effort, which you can too rarely count on.

Parents' main worry about grade skipping is social maturity. Even if your high-ability child isn't socially adept,  in many cases, it's wiser to have him or her skip a grade(s) than to endure the ongoing boredom and lack of learning that comes from being in a too low-achieving class. Too, grade skipping reduces the chances of a gifted child being ridiculed by classmates as a snob or showoff.

You can mitigate the social risk of grade-skipping by:
  • Trying to get another gifted child accelerated into your child's new class. 
  • Having your child sit next to a kind, socially adept student(s) who can teach your child the higher grade's social and academic norms.
  • Ensuring that the receiving teacher will welcome your child and be willing to keep an eye on your child to ensure s/he's being welcomed into the class and to give your child needed feedback, social and academic.
To maximize your chances of getting permission to have your child skip a grade, present to the principal a portfolio including:
  • Samples of your child's in- and out-of-school work that suggest the ability to handle the work in a higher grade. 
  • Samples of work assigned in his current class that demonstrate how beneath his ability or achievement level that work is.
  • Standardized test score results.
  • Research supporting grade skipping, including those studies that address the social maturity and knowledge-gap issues. An easy way to assemble the research is to print pages from the excellent book Genius Denied. Because principals tend to be busy, highlight the key sentences. 
  • If your child writes well, include a letter from your child explaining why it's important s/he be allowed to skip a grade(s).
  • Have your child verbally join you in making the case for skipping a grade(s).
For more on accelerating gifted kids, see this portal and/or the book, Acceleration Strategies.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I read your first link, and although the writers said that 90 percent of accelerated kids have positive outcomes, I'd like to know how they defined "positive outcome."

I skipped a grade myself, and my experience was decidedly mixed. For the most part, I kept up OK, but my social life was a disaster, and I fell even further behind in math than I was before. To this day, I'm not the most social person. As for math, once you fall far enough behind, you never really catch up; that closed more career doors than I care to think about.

IMO, for kids such as you describe, homeschooling is a far better option than acceleration. For that matter, so are private schools, magnet schools, and charter schools.

When I skipped a grade, it was 40 years ago; I think you often apply yesterday's solutions to today's least you did in this case.

Marty Nemko said...

In my 30 years in writing about education, I've never written in advocacy of grade skipping until now. American public education is obsessed with helping the low achievers and has eviscerated programs for the gifted. It is that current trend plus the new research base supporting its efficacy that moves me to write about it, not the fact that I skipped a grade. In contrast, it sounds like your antipathy to the concept stems only from your own personal experience with it.

That said, I am not opposed to home schooling, if done well.

Laurie said...

I teach at a small private high school (~70 students) and we thought long and hard last year before we accepted three new students into the senior class--a fifteen-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, and a thirteen-year-old. But all three did well, both socially and academically, and it was a very positive experience for all concerned.

Dave said...

Dr. Nemko,

Were you in the Special Progress group? I looked at my father's 1958 junior high yearbook. He was in 9-10 SP that year. It went in the order of 9-10 (highest achieving students), 9-1 (second highest level), then 9-2, 9-3 and all the way to 9-8 (slowest). I haven't looked at the book in a long time, but I remember each group consisting of about 20 students. They really should use this system again.

He skipped two grades and graduated from Brooklyn Tech at 16. Unfortunately, he was not a serious student and his lack of maturity affected his grades in college.

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, Dave, I was in the "Special Progress" program.

Anonymous said...

it sounds like your antipathy to the concept stems only from your own personal experience with it.

Be that as it may, I'm still wondering what the definition of "positive outcome" is. Forty years ago, I skipped a grade, and 26 years ago, I graduated from college with honors. They'd probably tell me the outcome was positive, and I'm just a whiner!

Anonymous said...

Amazes me to see someone who makes part of his living as a writer, and encourages people to behave ethically, doing what amounts to advocating piracy of writers' works online.

"An easy way to assemble the research is to print pages from the excellent book Genius Denied" which you state is a "free Google books edition."

It is not a free edition. It's a book that was written in 2004. Only 30 pages are available at Google, and that probably not because the authors thought it was a good idea but because the lawyers at Simon and Schuster okayed it as part of a huge settlement. On Amazon, only 10 pages are available in the preview.

So, you've just endorsed theft of a kind that was not possible while the book was being written, but occurred just in time to make fewer people willing to pay for the physical volume.

Yes, it's legal. Ethical, just because it's legal?

Marty Nemko said...

Fair point. I'll change the text to refer people to the page where they can purchase it. Thanks.


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