Allowing children to skip a grade has been controversial since the age-based grading system was developed. Profound conflict between providing needed intellectual challenges for gifted children and the displaced social environment for the child too young for the grade brews in the minds of many parents. The discussion is tied in with the issue of giftedness. Parents want their children to be gifted. They apply in numbers for special gifted programs. A gifted child is a social asset (as well as a curse) to many parents. Some both wish for and dread the gift of specialness.
Children feel better and perform closer to full capacity when with intellectual peers. It is common for gifted children to become bored and begin to act out or underachieve when their academic needs are not being met. The behavioral problems disappear as soon as the child feels challenged.
Being moved up a grade does not necessarily bring the child into contact with intellectual peers, but only with children with another year of classwork under their belts. The role that the grade-skipped child performs in the older class may become perverse when his or her abilities go beyond those of older classmates. In many cases, grade skipping puts children in strange and complex social situations.
In a recent interview, Actor, Ken Newman, who skipped a grade in elementary school, described how he regretted it when he got to high school, confessing,
“Kids thought it was funny to grab me and stuff me into the trash can.” About when he went off to Cornell University at age 15 he said, “I was always on the sidelines–I didn’t fit in. Now I’m in my 50s, and I still feel like I have to prove myself.
The grade skip can cause knowledge gaps if the child has not been taught basic concepts that add extra challenges for children who are not prepared. Children who skip a grade often do not have a full grasp of material needed to learn the more advanced material. While the student attempts to bridge this gap, they are likely to find the new material challenging. It may be demoralizing for a child to leave a situation where he or she was a was a top performer and move into one where he or she is struggling with material that everyone else grasps. In younger years, knowledge gaps are smaller and children almost always catch up with peers, but in later school years, knowledge gaps can cause serious academic inconsistencies.
Starting children in school early either by entering them into kindergarten a year younger or skipping the kindergarten year and passing them directly in grade one, avoids the problems of leaving school friends behind or serious knowledge gaps.
Success of a grade skipping option seems to depend on personality and on where the child is in life when the skipping takes place. Writer and journalist Tara Groth skipped her senior year and went straight to college.
She recently said,
“I was really driven…I never had a problem doing the work: I was always surprised at the low effort other people were putting in.” She received her degree at the age of 19 and went to run a successful freelance writing business.
There are no reliable statistics as to how many children are grade-skipped every year. Experts do agree that the practice is getting less popular. Part of the reason is that alternative forms of academic acceleration have been developed that do not have the big social consequences of grade-skipping.
Advanced classes have emerged as an alternative. Gifted or advanced children may receive an hour or two of classes at a higher more demanding level in a single subject (usually math or science). This practice exposes children to stimulating learning without disrupting their normal social growth pattern within the class.
One-on-one teaching in more advanced subjects can stimulate students who hunger for challenge, either in a tutorial or small classroom format, without disrupting a child’s classroom social development.
The mission of the Tenney School is to promote one-to-one learning and the acquisition of positive attitudes, advanced knowledge, and skills for success. Our school firmly believes that students who are scheduled for healthy amounts of time one-to-one with their teachers will fully achieve their academic potential. Please contact us to learn more.