The grade skip dilemma: why your child may fare better than you expect

The grade skip dilemma:  why your child may fare better than you expect
Second chance at the college experience.

In the years I’ve written about gifted and talented students, I’ve never addressed the question of acceleration, or one form of it, grade skipping. While I have participated in decisions to grade skip students, I never thought of the question from the angle that Dr. Katie McClarty did, looking at the long-term success of students who were accelerated. According to McClarty, who leads the research team at Pearson’s Center for College & Career Success, grade skipping has significant career benefits.

During a session at last month’s American Educational Research Association convention (“AERA”), McClarty presented the results of her longitudinal study, during which she reviewed data of over 1,000 students (accelerated and non-accelerated with similar abilities) for 12 years after they’d completed eighth grade. McClarty’s findings indicated that students who were grade skipped benefitted by having the opportunity to enter the work force earlier, found more prestigious and higher paying jobs, and were more productive than non-accelerated students. McClarty maintained that her research also shows that grade skipped individuals are just as satisfied with their jobs as their peers. However, many factors contribute to satisfaction and productivity.

Will these findings be enough to convince parents and students to take the risk and embark on a grade skip?

Last week, McClarty and I discussed the academic and social concerns linked to acceleration. McClarty observed that some worry that their child may miss key elements of the curriculum. Parents are not alone in this thinking. General education teachers, many of whom are fixated on the belief that age is the leveler for all learning, rely on this claim to resist efforts to grade skip. Their argument’s a red herring. The highly gifted need only one or two iterations (explanations) to grasp new material and many prosper after grade skipping.

McClarty emphasized that to maximize student potential, parents should focus on meeting students’ individual needs. I totally agree. McClarty aims to encourage parents to grade skip if the child is “ready, urging them to not let imagined academic or social consequences (what she lumped together as dating, drinking, and driving) hold them back.” Other research presented at AERA (and beyond) indicates that there is no ideal academic or social fit for students in this population.

What I tell parents is to make sure grade skipping does not become a bandaid or quick fix to a long-term problem. Parents need to stay on top of the new curriculum to ascertain whether there is academic rigor in the new grade. Otherwise, the student is just going to catch up to his new peers and become bored again. I’ve seen this firsthand.

I’ve also seen acceleration experiences that worked beautifully. Case in point: I worked with one student who was grade skipped in kindergarten, had many cross grade experiences in elementary school (working with students 2-3 grade levels above in core classes), attended different middle schools to obtain a differentiated language arts curriculum, and was grade skipped again in 7th grade. His parents were strong advocates and district administrators were creative, supportive, and flexible. Acceleration enabled this student to enter college at 15.

Bottom line: Since there’s no perfect fit, be prepared to stay on top of your child’s progress. As one parent acknowledged, you “[d]o whatever it takes to give them the experience of challenge and to keep them engaged in learning as an enjoyable pursuit” (Jolly et al, 2011, p. 196).* To McClarty, that means act early. She’s a fan of early academic interventions to accelerate student challenges. For those interested, her research is more fully set forth in “Early to Rise: The Effects of Acceleration on Occupation, Prestige, Earnings and Satisfaction in the released, A Nation Empowered, edited by leaders in the gifted profession, including McClarty’s AERA discussant, and my icon, Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska.

What’s next for McClarty? Studying the all important topic of twice-exceptional learners (gifted and with learning disabilities) and investigating how gifted students are identified across the globe.

As for parents, your day never ends. As Dr. VanTassel-Baska lamented in McClarty’s AERA session, in the field of gifted and talented, “laissez-faire is not an option.”

*See, Parenting Gifted Children: The Authoritative Guide From the National Association for Gifted Children

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