Should Your Child Skip a Grade?

 Posted by on October 24, 2011  Add comments  Tagged with: ,
Oct 242011

Hi! I would love for you to talk more about how you got Bee to skip a grade. After six months of thinking about it, my husband and I have decided that it would be the best thing for our son to move up a grade, but I think that we are really going to have to fight the principal about it (it isn’t that she doesn’t think “he” should move up, just that she’s against anyone moving up). I would love to hear some advice and any advice about helping a child with the transition. (We’re thinking about moving him from 1st to 2nd grade). Thanks!

Before I answer this question, I should provide a bit of background. Bee, who will turn 9 this Saturday, has always been a very advanced child. She spoke in full sentences at 14 months, taught herself to read at age 4, and has a near-photographic memory. We felt that she was ready to start school before her 5th birthday. However, because she has a late October birthday, she missed the September 15th cutoff, and didn’t begin kindergarten until she was nearly 6.

In kindergarten, Bee was reading at the 4th grade level, and her teacher had to create a chart in order to record her progress, because the standard chart for kindergarten doesn’t go that high. However, Bee was happy and content, so we didn’t push for much differentiation at that time. This all changed in the first grade, when Bee came home upset because the school librarian would only let her check out picture books, and we knew that she wasn’t being challenged because every paper she brought home had a perfect score. We met with her teacher, who agreed to give Bee 4th grade reading and spelling work and, in a cooperative effort with another teacher, created special enrichment projects for Bee, and another little girl who was at the same reading level. We also arranged for special library privileges for Bee, and this was enough to keep her sufficiently challenged for the remainder of the year.

Last year, almost immediately after school started, Bee started complaining of frequent headaches. She also expressed frustration because her work at school was too easy, and she was very bored. She claimed that everything felt like “review” to her, and she wasn’t allowed to work ahead. We arranged another conference with Bee’s teacher, and Bee was again assigned advanced (5th grade) reading and spelling work. However, over the course of the next few months, and many visits to her pediatrician, we determined that this enrichment was not enough. After Bee began to express anxiety over adult concerns, such as property taxes and mortgage loans (which perplexed us because she was only 7), and she confessed to her doctor that she dreaded school because it was boring, her doctor recommended that she see a counselor.

After one meeting with Bee, the counselor told us that Bee’s only problem is that she’s an exceptionally bright child, and she wasn’t being challenged enough. She called her a “smart worrier,” and explained that it isn’t unusual for gifted children to take on worries out of boredom, as a way to “fill time” (which explained Bee’s sudden concern about income taxes). The counselor recommended that we immediately get Bee into a program for gifted children. The problem was that our local school district doesn’t have such a program until the 4th grade, so we arranged for a meeting with Bee’s teacher, principal, and guidance counselor. We were all in agreement that perhaps Bee should skip a grade, but because of our concern about her emotional health and maturity, we proceeded with great caution. During Basic Skills testing, Bee was given 3rd grade tests, instead of 2nd, and her composite score was 99 – the highest possible. She was also given a Cognitive Abilities test, which is typically administered in the 3rd grade. She had the highest score of all the students who took the test.

At this point, we were absolutely convinced that Bee should move ahead to the 4th grade the following fall. We discussed this with her, and though she was nervous, she agreed. During the last quarter of the school year, in an effort to ease her transition, the school allowed Bee to join the 3rd grade class for math, reading, and specials (music and P.E.). We maintained regular communication with the school during this time, and we also met with the 3rd grade teacher at conferences. We all felt that Bee adjusted well, and this finalized our decision to advance her. Over the summer, we also submitted her test scores to the center for gifted education and talent development at the nearby university, and she was accepted.

We’ve determined that the decision to advance Bee was absolutely the right one. She’s developed many new friendships, has adapted well socially to her new class, and seems to be happy and thriving. On Friday, we learned that she had been given the Structures of Intellect examination, and was one of only 4 students in her grade selected to participate in LEO (Learning Enrichment Opportunities), which is the talented and gifted program at the elementary level. She’s also being given 6th grade spelling work. Her grades for the first quarter were:

Math – A+
Science – A
Reading – A+
Social Studies – A+
Language Arts – A+
Spelling – A

Now, I’m not telling you this to brag about my super-smart kid (although I’m very, very proud of her, of course), but to illustrate that the decision to advance Bee a grade was not made without much contemplation, time, and collaboration between us and her teachers. There were many factors to consider, and we tried several other strategies before concluding that acceleration was the best option. Every year, since Bee entered school, we’ve had to advocate strongly for her, because while there are many resources available for parents of children with special needs, there are very few for parents of gifted children.

Whenever I say this to anyone, people are like, “Oh poor you! You have a smart kid. What a terrible problem to have!” Because what parent doesn’t want a smart kid, right?

Of course we want our children to be smart, and successful. But we also want them to be happy. Truth be told, I don’t care if Bee gets into the gifted program or not, or if she goes to an Ivy League school or a state university, or if she becomes a wealthy executive, or a struggling actor trying to catch a break (though obviously I don’t want her to starve, but my point is that her career is her choice). My only concern, for any of my children, is that they’re happy. And Bee’s counselor warned us that a hallmark of intellectually gifted children is that they’re often very sensitive, and sometimes emotionally fragile.

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you already know this to be true of my baby Bee.

So, the point I’m trying to make here is this – if you’re considering skipping your child ahead, you must consider more than his/her academic level. The goal of acceleration is to meet a child’s educational needs without neglecting their emotional and social needs. If your child complains of boredom, this is a warning sign, but don’t just rush into acceleration for that reason alone. Meet with your child’s teacher, and see if differentiation in the classroom is a possibility. If this isn’t enough, push for additional evaluation and testing, because exceptional performance can help determine intellectual giftedness. Most importantly, your child must demonstrate the willingness and desire to advance, as well as appropriate emotional maturity, and the ability to adapt fairly easily to change.

I don’t think that children should be accelerated if they’re coping with any kind of physical or emotional upheaval, such as illness, or death in the family, or divorce. Bee, being a typical firstborn, has always been level-headed and mature for her age, but the first month of school with a new group of kids, more homework, and greater expectations was still somewhat difficult, and a time of major adjustment. However, Bee’s principal said that in his experience, this adjustment is much easier for children to make at the beginning of the school year, rather than in the middle.

If you genuinely believe that acceleration is in your child’s best interest, you must consider your child’s personality, and you must be very determined and outspoken with school officials, and insist that your child be evaluated further. We’re fortunate that Bee attends a small school which has, from the beginning, demonstrated definite willingness to do whatever it takes to insure that Bee’s needs are met. We know that her teacher and counselor are always looking out for her.

Most importantly we, her parents, are always looking out for her too, and we’ll continue to do so, every year, until she steps out into the world to do whatever God has in store for her. We don’t know why God chose us to raise this extraordinary kid, but we’re trying our very best to do it right.