What No One Ever Tells You About Grade Skipping

Volume 7

Academic acceleration for gifted students can take many forms but one of the most controversial is whole grade acceleration, commonly known as, ‘grade skipping.’ This practice is controversial only because negative preconceptions still prevail among teachers, administrators and parents that grade skipping is harmful to students.  We now have reams of research indicating that whole grade acceleration is successful for most of the students who skip.

Five years ago, my son skipped the third grade as he transitioned to a new school. I learned a lot about the consequences of him skipping a grade that I wish someone had told me back then. It likely wouldn’t have changed our decision to grade-skip him, but it may have made my son’s journey a bit easier. Several parents I know have also grade skipped their children. After speaking with them, here are just a few of the lessons we parents have learned along the way.

Make sure your child is truly prepared to be the last one to reach milestones.

Our son is tall, so he has always looked older than he is. But other children who grade skip may be the smallest in their class throughout their years in school. This difference may bother some children. When classmates start to show outward signs of puberty (acne, facial hair, braces, etc.), grade skipped kids may feel left behind. We have to remind our children that they are ‘normal’ and that they, too, will go through all the same changes in another year. I imagine we will face similar issues when our kids’ friends start driving. The key is to make sure your child understands that their body isn’t necessarily accelerated at the same pace as their brain. 

 Be prepared to tell every single one of your child’s teachers every single year that your child is younger than classmates.

When my son was grade-skipped, I assumed each of his teachers would be informed. Nope. Few, if any, of his teachers had any idea he was a full 1-2 years younger than his classmates. In notes home to me, teachers would tell me how ‘immature’ my son was and how he was behind in social skills. I had to schedule parent-teacher conferences with each teacher to tell them that he was, in fact, much younger than the other children in his class. After hearing that, teachers would apologize to me saying they had no idea he had grade skipped. I even had to go speak to my son’s physical education teacher because he kept getting “P” for progressing on his report card rather than satisfactory grades in gym class. When I told the teacher my son was younger, the teacher said, “Oh that explains why he doesn’t have the coordination to do this activity…he isn’t supposed to be there developmentally yet.” After that, my son had a much easier time in gym class! Occasionally, parents of accelerated students meet with a teacher who says she doesn’t believe in grade skipping. One even sniped to me, “Well he’s just going to have to learn how to act more mature!” I laughed out loud. “How does one pretend to be older than they really are?” I asked her perplexed.

You will have to work hard to help your child develop social connections.

For neurotypical children, there comes a point where mom and dad no longer coordinate play dates, orchestrate social interactions, buddy their kids up for camps and otherwise direct their child’s social life. But with gifted children who are younger than their peers, parents must work extra hard to make sure friendships are strong. Younger children often have different interests than their older classmates so it’s important for mom and dad to continue to make sure the accelerated child has solid social connections inside and outside of school. This means befriending the parents of your child’s classmates and extending lots of invitations for kids to come over and play at your house.

Arm your child with answers to student, teacher and parent questions about why they skipped ahead.

Teachers, parents, and classmates still ask my son, “Why did you skip a grade?” when they hear he accelerated. At first, he was embarrassed by this question and wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to sound like he was bragging about being smart or imply others were not as advanced. After much discussion about how to respond, we settled on, “I was ready.” Usually, that works to assuage inquiring minds but occasionally there are still teachers (!!) who make comments to my son about how they believe grade skipping is a huge mistake. Other parents I know face the same criticisms, sometimes within their own families. Myths still abound that full grade acceleration is damaging to children.

If your child is very, very advanced academically, consider a multi-year grade skip.

By skipping one grade, we tried to toe the line between getting our son more advanced material but keeping him socially close to kids his age. I’m not sure we gained much academically by only advancing one grade. If you’re going to skip, consider putting the student where they should be academically, even if that means skipping several grades ahead. Sometimes this means forfeiting social connections, but other times putting a child with intellectual peers results in more friends. Classmates finally understand their jokes and perspectives.

Grade skipping can make a huge difference to your child.

When a child is placed in the right academic setting for their abilities, it can be life-changing. Frustrations disappear and children are excited to learn again. Some parents even report improvements in a child’s executive function skills after a grade skip because when more is expected of them, they rise to the occasion.

Grade skipping isn’t right for every gifted child. There must be a compelling reason to consider this type of acceleration. Using the Iowa Acceleration Scale can provide schools and parents with objective criteria to determine if grade skipping is the right form of acceleration for a student. Ultimately, the decision rests with parents. If you feel grade skipping is right for your child, pursue it while keeping these lessons in mind.