One Tool to Provide Academic Challenge
Grade acceleration. Skipping a grade. Double Promotion. They all mean the same thing – accelerated learning for your child. When you have gifted student the thought of moving them up a grade inevitably crosses your mind.
It was an article in the New York Times by Jessica Lahey (who I’ve come to have great respect for) against grade acceleration that prompted me to start blogging. At the time I was very sensitive about the decision and needed to well, vent.
I didn’t really know anyone who could give me a clues on what to expect or what I should look out for. I hope you can benefit from our experiences.
My daughter went from kindergarten directly to 2nd grade. It was the best decision at the time and I stand by it.
However, it wasn’t the first choice. First choice would be for her to be in a classroom with intellectual peers who were the same age. She did attend, and still does, a one day a week pull-out gifted program but it wasn’t, and still isn’t, enough. So we went with grade acceleration.
- Just because you think your child should be grade skipped doesn’t necessarily make it so. Yep, I said it. The decision shouldn’t be subjective and it doesn’t need to be. The Iowa Acceleration Scale: A Guide for Whole-Grade Acceleration K-8 is an invaluable tool for evaluating students. If your school isn’t using it, they should be. The scale takes into consideration everything from IQ scores to maturity levels to height. Fair warning, it also asks if the child is in favor of the move. If the student isn’t, the grade skip won’t be successful. Every topic is weighted and it includes the research as to why – or why not – grade acceleration is right for your student. This was used for my daughter’s grade acceleration and I can’t recommend it enough.
- Kids aren’t always nice. You probably already know this but it’s still a shock to the system. The kids in her new class knew she wasn’t supposed to be in 2nd grade and let her know she wasn’t welcome. One boy told her only stupid people didn’t get to go to 1st grade. Bless his heart. Needless to say there was no kiddie welcome wagon but she did make friends. Give it some time.
- The right teacher can make the difference in success. You probably already know this, too. Skipping a grade can put your child in a potentially hostile situation (see above). Luckily, our daughter had already been going to her new teacher as a kindergartener for a 2nd grade reading group so the transition was easier than it might have been. The teacher helped smooth the social side of things by having her assigned as an ambassador to help new kids to the school learn the ropes. Giving her additional responsibilities helped her feel as though she really did belong in the classroom.
- Gaps in knowledge. The administrators and teachers toss this term around as a reason not to grade accelerate. They point out that the student won’t know everything they’re supposed to because of the missed classroom time and they’ll automatically be behind the rest of the class. The only gap the 2nd grade teacher found in my daughter’s knowledge was the edit/revision process in writing. She managed to close that gap with a three-minute discussion. Granted, it might differ depending on which grade is bypassed but I don’t think this is a significant factor in the decision making because most teachers underestimate how quickly gifted students acquire and master concepts.
- They aren’t the smartest kid in class anymore. It could happen. More than likely there will be new challenges and they may not be at the top of the class. Particularly true if you pursue radical acceleration (skipping more than one grade level) or radical subject acceleration. How will this affect their self-esteem? Hopefully their sense of worth isn’t tied to grades. If it is, work on changing that. It’s not a good place for any child to be.
- They are the smartest kid in the class. Yeah, that happens with these kids. Grade acceleration won’t fix everything. That can be disappointing because it’s usually a tough battle just to get the accommodation. You hope that it’ll be smooth sailing from then on. But if your child is working several years ahead moving up one grade isn’t a magic bullet. It’s part of the solution – not THE solution. Think of it as one tool, out of many, that you and the school can use in building your child’s learning plan.
- Maturity matters. Of course you want to set your child up for success, not failure. If they don’t have the maturity to accept challenges, make new friends, and maybe struggle with unfamiliar material then you need to think long and hard if grade acceleration is the right step to take at this time. Perhaps focusing on subject acceleration would be a better fit. Take each year, or each semester, as they come.
- What’s your end-game plan? Grade acceleration in elementary school can seem like a no-brainer. It did to us. And just like that we lost a year. My daughter is on track to graduate high-school at least one year early. If she does curriculum compacting or another grade skip that could be even earlier. Will she be ready for college at such a young age? Maybe, maybe not. Will I be ready to let her go? Maybe, maybe not. Will her dad? Definitely not. There are alternatives to early graduation if that’s not the right path for your child. Bottom line, you do need to give that long view some thought.
Grade acceleration has worked for my daughter and she’s nearing the end of 5th grade. I’ll keep you updated.
What’s been your experience, positive or negative, with grade acceleration?