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The Acceleration Question: Should Gifted Children Skip Grades?

The Acceleration Question: Should Gifted Children Skip Grades?

by Jodi Forschmiedt

Seven year old Allison reads at a sixth grade level and works a year ahead of her first grade classmates in math. Her parents worry that Allison is bored and unchallenged in school. Their small school district doesn't have any special programs for gifted kids like Allison. The first grade teacher tries to keep the active youngster busy, but doesn't have much time to work with her– some of the students are struggling to read and to master other basic first grade skills.

When Allison's parents approach the school principal about promoting their daughter to third grade rather than second, he refuses. The principal explains that grade skipping leads to social problems and academic failure for the accelerated child. He reminds the parents that if accelerated, Allison would be the last in her class to reach puberty, the last to be able to drive. The principal insists that Allison's needs can be met in the regular classroom with her age mates. Who's right?

The principal's views are common. Many educators feel that grade skipping causes more problems than it solves. When psychologist David Elkind published The Hurried Child in 1981, academic acceleration fell even further out of favor. Although Elkind's book does not discuss grade skipping or gifted children specifically, his polemic against the widespread hurrying of children to grow up faster is often cited as evidence of the dangers of acceleration.

Research on the effects of grade skipping tells a different story. In spite of the concerns expressed by educators, studies show that carefully selected students who skip grades do as well as or better than their new peers in all areas of achievement. Nor have researchers discovered any link between acceleration and social or emotional difficulties.

To help ensure a successful experience for a child skipping a grade, gifted education experts Gary Davis and Sylvia Rimm recommend these guidelines:

· The child should have a measured IQ of 130 or higher.
· No matter how far advanced the student may be, he or she should skip only one grade at a time. Further acceleration can be considered the following year.
· The child should be evaluated for any skill gaps that may occur as a result of missing coursework, and assisted to make up the material.
· The child's new teacher should be supportive of the move.
· The child's parents should be supportive, and prepared to provide assistance with the adjustment.
· Grade skipping decisions should be made on a case by case basis, and should consider all aspects of the child's development.
· Acceleration should be done on a trial basis, so that the child may move back to the lower grade without feeling like a failure.

Another way to meet a child's need for advanced instruction is "subject skipping," allowing students to attend an older class for the subjects in which they are advanced. With careful planning and support, either strategy can be effective.

About the author

Jodi Forschmiedt is a writer, a teacher and mother of two in Seattle, Washington. Contact her at jodi@jodiwrites.com

© Jodi Forschmiedt 2004

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