Guest Author - Lorel Shea
There are many ways in which a gifted student in a traditional school can be accelerated. A grade skip is the most obvious and also the most controversial form of acceleration. The grade skipped child actually “skips” over an entire year's worth of studies. Thus, a student may go directly from grade one to grade three, or from grade six to grade eight. Grade skips haven't been common in a generation or more, but they are slowly coming back into fashion.
An ideal candidate for a grade skip will be globally gifted; possessing strong test scores and superior academic record in all subjects. She must be able to operate at the advanced grade level across the curriculum. An asynchronous gifted learner may require additional challenge in a favorite subject, such as mathematics. In this case, she can be subject advanced for math class, or have alternative math accommodation within the classroom. Kids who are highly to profoundly gifted may need a multiple year skip in order to be presented with new material and appropriate challenge.
Opponents of grade skipping are concerned that the practice may promote children into awkward social situations with older kids. Current data does not support this as a typical problem for grade skipped kids. On the whole, kids who are given the proper level of material are happier and less likely to have social and emotional issues. Some may be concerned about learning gaps. Kids who accelerate in this manner may indeed have small pockets of information “missing”, but it is not difficult to remedy this situation. If a child missed the Civil War in 5th grade history, he can easily be assigned special reading or homework projects outside of classroom hours. Why should a child be held back when he has already mastered almost everything he might have been taught in that skipped over year?
The truth is, full grade skips have proven to be a cost effective and relatively easy way to accommodate gifted learners. There is no obligation for a special classroom, no additional teacher or training required, and little or no extra planning and preparation necessary. Tools such as the IOWA acceleration manual exist to help parents and administrators decide if a child is ready for a grade skip. Standardized tests designed for older students can demonstrate where a gifted learner falls in comparison to the peer group they may be joining. This is referred to as “out of level testing” and it can be very helpful in determining what concepts and skills a child is proficient in before a considered skip.
There are a few additional points to contemplate. A child who is academically ready must also have a certain level of maturity in order to succeed in a grade skip. Parents and teachers should discuss how easily a child may adapt if she is extremely introverted or prone to behavior problems. Some twice-exceptional kids might do better with another form of acceleration. The sports enthusiast may sacrifice status if forced to compete with grade-mates and not age-mates. Academic competitions may also put the skipped student at a disadvantage.
I believe each case merits individual consideration. What is right for one gifted child is not always the best solution for the next gifted child. My personal opinion is that school is first and foremost, a place of learning. If you find the right educational situation, everything else is secondary.