Grade skipping: Is it the right choice for my child?

Jan. 15, 2020
Grade skipping: Is it the right choice for my child?

Stefanie LeJeunesse’s son was a first-grader in Mount Vernon, Washington, when she considered having him skip a grade. 

“He was getting in trouble daily for being off-task, losing focus, meandering around, reading under his desk and other normal bored 6-year-old behaviors,” LeJeunesse says. 

Her son was bright — testing at a fourth-grade level in reading and math while still in kindergarten — and the work just wasn’t challenging. 

“He was being asked to do stuff like write the letter ‘A’ over and over for an entire week,” she says. 

LeJeunesse spoke with the school’s principal and Laura Schonberg, director of their “highly capable” (aka gifted) program, in hopes of finding a way to keep him engaged at school. Schonberg suggested skipping second grade so that he would have access to the district’s gifted services more quickly and avoid another year of boredom that might negatively shape his views on school for good. When the next school year began, he bypassed second grade and went straight to third. 

LeJeunesse’s son was an exceptional kid in more ways than one. It’s really uncommon to skip grades, says Schonberg. But it can be a good option for kids who need more of a challenge academically. Here’s how to tell if your child might be ready.

How do I know if my child should skip a grade?

There aren’t always hard-and-fast requirements to determine whether a child should skip an entire grade, says Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, an administrator with the Acceleration Institute at the University of Iowa. But there are some signals that a child might be a candidate to skip a grade — a process she calls “whole-grade acceleration.”

They’re bored in school

Conversations about skipping a grade typically start because parents or teachers notice a child is “bored” in class, Schonberg says. That boredom can reveal itself in different ways, she says. For example, a parent might approach a teacher with concerns that a child’s negative feelings about school are linked to not learning anything new. Or a teacher might notice that a child is scoring off the charts and going through schoolwork or activities at a much faster pace than their peers, both of which could be a sign that a child might need more of a challenge than their current classroom can provide. 

They’re mature for their age

Many kids who end up skipping a grade also tend to be the ones who gravitate toward older children anyway, Lupkowski-Shoplik says. They often find more things in common with older kids and have similar interests. For example, a child might like the same kinds of games, be reading similar books or have a more advanced vocabulary than students in their own grade, she says, which can make whole-grade acceleration go more smoothly. 

That’s not to say a kid needs to have older friends, Schonberg says. If whole-grade acceleration makes sense for other reasons, there are ways to make social integration go more smoothly, too — like switching schools for a fresh start or keeping them on a campus where they already have a supportive teaching staff and peer group. 

Their academic needs aren’t (or can’t be) met in other ways

Some schools have processes in place to challenge students who need it — like letting them go to a higher grade for reading or enroll in advanced math classes — but if those processes aren’t enough or don’t exist, skipping a grade might be a good alternative, Lupkowski-Shoplik says. For example, if a child is advanced in multiple areas, it might make more sense for them to move up a grade.

They score highly on the Iowa Acceleration Scale

While the decision to skip a grade is made on a case-by-case basis, there are tools available to add some rigor to the decision-making process. For example, the Iowa Acceleration Scale is a manual parents and educators (in any state) can use to assess whether a child is a candidate for whole-grade acceleration.

Lupkowski-Shoplik co-authored the manual, and she says it can be used to guide a conversation among the family and school about the child’s needs and readiness. In the manual, number values are assigned to responses to questions in a range of areas (like test scores, school attendance, cognitive aptitude or social engagement) and then tallied. The higher the score, the stronger the recommendation for acceleration.

What other factors should be considered when determining whether my child should skip a grade?

According to Schonberg, skipping a grade is a weighty decision that requires a nuanced bird's-eye view look at your child's social, emotional and even physical development, as well as their school's policies. 

Needs of the child

The main reason a child skips a grade is because their academic needs aren’t being met. By skipping a grade, a particularly gifted child will have better access to more challenging work, and that can help them be more engaged and interested in their classwork. 

But whole-grade acceleration isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all the problems that existed in the earlier grade, Schonberg warns. Some kids might still need to be challenged academically. That’s why she says parents and administrators should consider the full scope of support and resources a child has available to them, should this be the case, like allowing them to go to an even older classroom for reading or enrolling them in online classes for more advanced math. And there are other non-academic needs to consider, too, Schonberg says, like the need for a child to feel safe or have friends. 

Social-emotional readiness

When kids move up a grade, they won’t just be expected to tackle tougher math problems or more advanced reading. 

“If you’re accelerating a grade, you’re getting everything accelerated,” Schonberg says. 

A lot of social and emotional learning can take place over the course of a year, and she says it can be jarring for a child to jump right past that. 

Being on the same page academically as older peers can make a grade skip a little easier, but it’s only one consideration of several, Schonberg says. Children don’t always develop at the same pace across all areas, and it’s not uncommon for social-emotional skills to lag behind academic ones. This is particularly true when skipping the last grade in a given environment — such as going from fourth grade in an elementary school setting straight into sixth grade at a middle school. When that happens, parents, teachers and the kids themselves (if possible) should be honest about related challenges. 

A lot of parents (and even some educators) wonder whether having their child skip a grade will hurt them socially, but research on the topic is actually pretty reassuring, Lupkowski-Shoplik says. Studies show that, overall, children who skip grades fare just as well socially — if not slightly better — than their peers. 

Physical development

Another factor that might influence how a child might integrate into a higher grade level is their physical size, Schonberg says. If a child is physically small, that can affect how their new peers view them or even how they view themselves — both of which could potentially have an impact on their social life or confidence. 

Look at the big picture

LeJeunesse says her son is thriving since skipping second grade. 

“We’re glad we chose grade acceleration,” she says. 

Her son is still a little ahead of his peers academically, but she says he enjoys school a lot more. 

“He gets in trouble much less, and loves his school community, which is a 180 from how he felt in first grade,” LeJeunesse says. 

Her advice to parents considering having their child skip a grade: Involve your kid in the decision-making process, and look at the whole picture. LeJeunesse suggests considering the following: “What if they’re still ahead after a skip? What’s the new peer group like? What important subjects will they miss in the grade level they skip? Is there an understanding teacher at their new grade level who’s able to help work out the kinks?”

Giving thought to these questions can give families a better feel for the impact of skipping a grade on their child, allowing for smoother sailing if they do.

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