Thinking of Grade Acceleration? 8 Things to Consider

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.Grade Acceleration

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?

20 Responses

  1. Well thought through! My daughter is in 6th right now (skipped 3rd), and she had the maturity and benefit of older friends which made the transition much easier. Your note on “losing a year” rings true – I remember that feeling distinctly the day she moved to the next grade.

    • The Common Mom says:

      Honestly, the thought of having her potentially leaving home a year earlier has become my biggest concern. Not necessarily because I don’t think she’ll be able to handle it but because she’s my only child and I’m not looking forward to the empty nest! Of course we haven’t entered the teen years yet so I may change my mind 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your daughter’s success story!

  2. Great post! We had an almost identical situation in skipping my daughter from K to 2nd. It was a transition but we are happy we did it. She resisted at one point but after being told she was either going to shape up, move to a private school or be homeschooled her behavior improved. I was not going to let her continue to get away with coasting and learning nothing 7 hours a day. With her it was more the loss of the familiar than any particular hardships in the new grade. And I cannot say enough about how wonderful her teacher was. The teacher also moved from K to 2nd that year (although she had not been my daughter’s teacher she did know her) and her incredibly detailed feedback was key to making the transition. Love her! We are still pursuing outside enrichment, especially a few summer camps where she will be the youngest student. I also love that you ended with the “college discussion.” As if what “may” happen in the future is a reason to hold her back now. We too are open to her taking a year off, maybe doing an internship or volunteer work, going to a college nearby or anything else that might interest her at that point. I know that God will open the right doors as we go forward.

    • The Common Mom says:

      So glad I’m not the only who’s had that Shape Up conversation! Totally agree about not limiting the kid now based on what “may” happen in the future. Sure you need to think about it but there are too many variables to absolutely know what will happen which is why I advocate making the best decisions you can right now with the information available.

      If you’re looking for summer camps check out the list of programs specifically for or that will appeal to gifted kids.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Thanks for writing this. I honestly could have written this same list, I agree with it almost 100%. My son skipped mid-year from 1st to 2nd grade. Not ideal but our only option at that time. He will start 9th grade in the fall. We have had thoughts that maybe he should have skipped two grades – but now that he is 13 and headed to high school where his peers are dating and getting ready to drive I’m kind of glad we didn’t. The acceleration has been very positive for him. We did not use the Iowa Scale, we just winged it – we were in a situation that was not working and were fortunate enough to have a principal that was willing to listen to me and do what was best for my kid.

    • The Common Mom says:

      What is the saying, ‘the proof is in the pudding’ – I think that’s it. Obviously, grade acceleration was needed and worked for your son. My personal experience has been once my daughter skipped there were a lot of people at the school who really thought it would be best for their child as well. It can be sometimes be hard to distinguish between kids who will benefit and kids who have parents that see it as some kind of badge of honor. The Iowa Scale levels the playing field. I’m always surprised when there are school districts out there that don’t have a formal plan in place.

      Thanks for stopping by and a huge congratulations for successfully advocating for your son!

  4. Our son moved up to 2nd grade after the first grading period of 1st grade. We were originally pursuing single-subject acceleration, but the school suggested that doing the full skip would be simpler schedule-wise. We were quite surprised when the Iowa Acceleration Scale identified him as a good candidate for the whole grade bump. I’m so glad the school used that tool because it made the decision so much easier for us, and we’re so glad we went ahead with the grade skip. My little guy is easily making As and Bs and his teacher says he contributes valuable input to class discussions and small group work. I just wish they had more time in school to be social and make friends!!!

    My question to anyone else who has been through this is about outside activities. When your children attend camp, Sunday School, or other groups where they separate participants by grade level, what do you do? Keep them with age-mates or with the grade they attend at school?

    Thanks for putting your positive experience on the blog and for giving us some much needed perspective as we’re just getting started!

    • The Common Mom says:

      So glad you’ve had a good experience with the grade skip!

      Oddly enough, the only place we’ve had an issue (and it wasn’t much of one) was at church. She wanted to join the children’s choir at age 4 but the concern was she wouldn’t be able to read the lyrics. Once the director realized that wasn’t a problem they welcomed her. But, the children’s class she was in was only for up to 2nd graders and they suggested she move along to the next level. It only took her tears for everyone to realize that emotionally she wasn’t ready for the older group. For other classes, we generally ask if there’s a minimum requirement and let her go. The robotics class she was in she was the youngest by three years – and the only girl. I tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, rebel that I am!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. Love that the IAS was helpful!

    • Courtney says:

      I have kept my daughter with her grade for extra curriculars, as opposed to age. I have found that as she has aged (6th grade now, skipped 3rd), she has begun to identify more with her grade than age – she FEELS like a 6th graders now, and 5th graders seem younger and in a different place.

  5. My 5yo DD has just been accelerated for the 2nd time, after these Easter holidays she will be in Year 2. It is a challenge for me to think that my baby who was due to start school last month is already in Year 2! But it was the school’s recommendation, and I know that it’s the right level for her at this time. I have spoken to her about some of the things you have mentioned in your blog, she seems fine with all of it. Sad to be leaving her friends, but really excited about new friends, and ready to work hard in her new class.

  6. My daughter skipped kindergarten and entered 1st grade a year early. It was a godsend for her and for her teachers. She is now in 6th grade. She attends a very small alternative public school that has a grade 5/6 classroom and a grade 7/8 classroom. She has been going over to the 7/8 classroom for math and reading and is looking forward to moving to that class full time next year. She relates better to the 7/8 grade kids and fits in socially. I am considering seeing if she wants to go from 7 to 9 after next year, and like the idea of using the Iowa Acceleration Scale to have some concrete data to guide the decision. I am not crazy about the idea of her graduating at age 16, but she definitely enjoys school more when she is paired with older kids and challenged academically.

    • The Common Mom says:

      Her school sounds wonderful! I’ve been hearing from other parents in similar situations and some of their kids took a ‘gap’ year between graduation and college, did study abroad, or in-depth internships. I think there are alternatives if college isn’t the right choice at such an early age.

      Thanks for sharing – love stories like this!

  7. So far so good (finishing 4th with 2 grade skips). I don’t actually think the end game is very important when one starts out because so many things can happen between kindergarten and the end of high school that it’s unlikely to be predictable. Who knows what the opportunities will be 10 years from now. We’re taking it one year at a time because that’s all we need to do.

    • The Common Mom says:

      Oh, I agree that you have to take it one year at a time – we certainly do. But…I do think you need to keep your options open or at least be on the lookout for options. As we consider the option of a second grade skip we have to think about what the ramifications of that MIGHT be. I’m sure you’ve probably done the same. The one thing I know for sure is that nothing ever seems to go as I planned.

  8. Claire Schuler says:

    How did you manage to get 2 skips. I pulled my daughter out and homeschooled her most of 4th grade because they refused to skip her. She went back in, in a new state, for 6 or so weeks at the end of the year, and she was still at the top of her class. She skipped 2nd but I wanted her to skip 4th. I am not sure what we will do next year, but I intend to work with her through the summer, and she’ll go back in in the fall. I am hoping that they will accelerate her by subject, but who knows. It is an inclusion school 3-12 so they could feasibly put her where she needs to be, but I doubt they will 🙁

  9. Joia Wood Caldwell says:

    Can anyone share about your conversation with your child to prepare them for the idea of moving up a grade? Our principal has been really wonderfully supportive and we are looking at moving our daughter from Kindergarten to 1st after Winter break.

  10. moveupmomma says:

    How do you go about having the school test to see if a child would do well in skipping a grade. My daughter is in second grade, but is not being challenged.. she knows everything. And she is ready to work ahead. She completes her weekly homework in 15minutes On Monday’s, she never has to study for spelling test. She just seems to be really ahead. But I am no expert.. She has a September birthday and is the oldest in her second grade class,, should I talk to someone about having her moved up one grade???

    • moveupmomma says:

      Also, she has a younger sister one grade below her.. I think maybe that might be something to consider, then they are closer in grades etc.

  11. Thanks for the blog posts about acceleration! We’re in the same situation now, trying to figure out where to place our daughter next year (she’s currently in kindergarten). The school is going to use the Iowa Scale for assessing acceleration to second grade next year, but as you mentioned in your post, it’s not our first choice– we would much rather see her in an age-appropriate classroom that could meet her intellectual needs, but I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. I’m also sad to think of her finishing school a year earlier, but she’s advanced enough that it might happen whether we accelerate a year now or not. I’m also concerned about other social situations, such as church, where she has been with the same kids since they were babies, and Girl Scouts, and recreational sports. This is the first time I’ve come across your site, going to spend some more time looking through it now!

Leave a Reply