How to skip a grade: What are the requirements?
You think your child might be a good candidate for grade skipping, but you have questions. What’s the process like? What are the requirements? Is it even possible?
The answer to all of these questions, unfortunately, is: It varies. There’s no standard set of guidelines dictating when or how a child should skip a grade. Schools and school districts often have a lot of leeway when it comes to accelerating students, and what happens in one school might not even be considered in another.
Even so, if you’re thinking about having your child skip a grade, there are some things you can generally expect to do — including pulling together information, talking to teachers, looking into your school’s specific policies and getting buy-in from the principal or other gatekeepers.
How do you skip a grade?
How a child skips a grade can look different from one school to the next, but many students will follow the same general process, says Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, an administrator with the Acceleration Institute at the University of Iowa. Here are the steps many parents follow.
Gather some intel
Why do you think your child should skip a grade? Write down your thoughts on what you’ve noticed about your child, including test scores, behaviors and what they’ve told you about their experience at school and what they’d like to do. Having all this info in one place can come in handy when it comes time to talk with your child’s teachers or school administrators.
It can also be helpful to gather information from other parents or organizations with experience in grade skipping. If you know families whose children skipped a grade, ask them about the decision-making process and what they wish they’d known or done differently. And check out resources from groups like the Acceleration Institute that have expertise in how skipping grades can impact gifted children.
Look into your school’s policies (and politics) on grade skipping
Find out what you can about the school’s existing policies. Some districts have strict guidelines in place that outline the steps a student must take in order to skip a grade. For example, a district might allow grade skipping but only after first grade. Or they might only accelerate students who score above a certain percentage on standardized tests.
You can generally find these policies in the school’s student manual or on the district’s website, but they aren’t always written down. Some schools have a more informal policy that’s at the discretion of the school’s principal, Lupkowski-Shoplik says. Sometimes these administrators have misconceptions or doubts about the process that influence whether they’ll even consider allowing kids to skip grades, she says.
Emily Popek, a communications specialist in Oneonta, New York, says her family considered talking to her daughter’s school about grade acceleration when she was in first grade but was worried about how it might be perceived.
“I've read and heard so much about how teachers are tired of parents telling them how to do their jobs, and I do not want to be that person,” Popek says. “I got the sense that skipping grades is sort of the nuclear option and that to advocate for that without trying other things first might be kind of jumping the gun.”
If you aren’t sure what the school’s policies are on grade skipping, your child’s teacher or school administrators should be able to explain them.
Talk to your child’s teachers
More often than not, grade skipping starts with a parent or teacher raising concerns that the child might need more advanced coursework, says Laura Schonberg, director of the highly capable services (aka “gifted”) program in Mount Vernon, Washington.
“The conversation usually starts in one of two ways,” she says. “Either the parent’s saying ‘My kid is always bored’ … or a teacher saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this kid is scoring off the charts and already knows all this stuff.’”
If you think your child needs more of a challenge than their current grade can offer, talking to their teacher can help confirm your suspicions or provide more insight into what they’re seeing in the classroom, Schonberg says. They can also tell you whether they think your child is ready to skip a grade or if there are alternatives to grade skipping that might be a better fit.
Get buy-in from leadership
Next, the teacher, family and school administrators will likely meet to talk about possible solutions. If the consensus lands on skipping a grade, a request is made to the school’s gatekeeper (typically the principal) to make the final decision.
While some schools might structure this decision-making process with rubrics or specific criteria, other schools might be more informal.
Emily Hubbard, a writer and marketing assistant in St. Louis says her son was moved up informally when he was in first grade. He was finishing work faster than the other students and was “completely checked out,” Hubbard says. At first, the teachers gave him second-grade materials to keep him engaged, but they eventually moved him up unofficially to the second-grade classroom. The next year, his teachers asked Hubbard to make it official.
“The process was super easy,” she says. “I just wrote a letter to the principal saying something like, ‘Please officially move Jonas up to third grade. We think it's where he should be.’ And they did it.”
Lupkowski-Shoplik says buy-in from school leadership is crucial. As gatekeepers, administrators often have the final say in whether a child skips a grade. If they are reluctant to move forward, it likely won’t happen. In those situations, Lupkowski-Shoplik says it can be helpful to find out what their biggest concerns are and then send them information that addresses those concerns. For example, if a principal is worried that grade skipping will hurt a child socially, parents or teachers could give them resources like the Acceleration Institute’s report A Nation Empowered, which includes success stories about accelerated students, as well as research showing the social impact of grade skipping is minimal.
Fulfill any remaining requirements
Your school’s administrators might require your child to check certain boxes before getting final approval to skip a grade, such as sitting for exams or conducting a formal assessment. Because these requirements vary so widely from one school to the next, check with your school to confirm what (if any) the final steps might be.
When is the best time to skip grades?
Many children who skip a grade do so in elementary school, Schonberg says. That’s partially because there are fewer options for advanced students compared to secondary school, and the academic gap can look a lot bigger during the earlier grades.
“If I'm a second-grader doing algebra, that is really obvious,” Schonberg says.
But elementary age isn’t the only time a child might benefit from a whole-grade acceleration. Skipping a grade can take place at any point from early childhood to college. The Acceleration Institute lists several ways a child might skip a whole grade, including:
Whole-grade acceleration: Skipping any grade during the course of elementary, middle or high school.
Early admission to kindergarten: Entering kindergarten before turning the minimum age set by their school district or state.
Early admission to first grade: Skipping kindergarten and going right into first grade
Telescoping curriculum: Finishing a curriculum in a shorter-than-expected period of time, such as completing three years of middle school in just two years, or a full grade year in just a semester.
Early entrance into middle school, high school or college: Starting the next level of schooling a full year (or more) earlier than expected.
Early graduation from high school or college: Finishing high school or college earlier than expected.
Are there alternatives to skipping a grade?
If skipping a whole grade isn’t right for the student, there are other things parents or educators can do to meet their academic needs. According to the Acceleration Institute, some of those processes include:
Subject-matter acceleration: A student might go to a higher grade classroom to participate in activities surrounding a specific content area (e.g., reading or math). This is a fairly typical way to challenge students who are gifted in a particular area but might be on-track with their peers in others, Schonberg says.
Curriculum compacting: This entails condensing an area of schoolwork into a shorter period of time, such as a year’s worth of reading units into just a few months.
Continuous progress: This means giving a child more advanced work as soon as they master something, allowing them to progress faster (chronologically) than their peers.
Self-paced instruction: Similar to continuous progress, this allows a child to be completely in charge of their own pace. Lupkowski-Shoplik says parents and administrators should be careful with this option because “it can easily turn into handing a student a book and sticking [them] in the back of the room without interaction or supervision.” She says unless a child is highly motivated, it can result in the student not moving forward at an appropriate pace or with a good understanding of the material.
Distance learning or online learning courses: By enrolling in courses outside the normal schoolwork, typically online, the child can participate in an advanced program at home, in the evenings or as an alternative to traditional classes during school hours.
Extracurricular programs: Participating in after-school or summer programs allows for more challenging work or a faster-paced learning environment.
Ramsey Hootman, a novelist in El Cerrito, California, says she considered having her son skip a grade but ran into obstacles in his school district. To challenge her son academically, she’s relied on gifted summer camps, where he is challenged in math and science, the areas he likes most, Hootman says.
When in doubt, consult the team
Whether you and your child decide to accelerate or pursue other options, remember that you are your child’s advocate — but you are also part of a team. Teachers and administrators can help you and your child navigate complicated policies and advise you on what they think would be the best fit for your child. If you aren’t sure what the next steps are, don’t be afraid to speak up.