One of my nephews, whom I will refer to as Thor (because he loves the movie character), was born at the end of September. His older sister, whom I will refer to as Rachel Alexandra (because she loves horses), was also born at the end of September. Neither of them made the September 1 cut off for Kindergarten in their public school district. Both tested for Kindergarten readiness in the month of May after they turned four, and both were accepted to start a year ahead of schedule. My sister and brother-in-law decided to start Rachel Alexandra early and to start Thor on schedule.
Fast forward two years. Rachel Alexandra is not only able to keep up with her grade level peers (who are all a year older) but also has been and continues to participate in the accelerated academics program. Thor is well above his grade level peers both academically and in physical stature and participates in the accelerated academics program.
He is a little bored academically at school. My sister and brother-in-law can’t help but wonder if they made the right decision by not starting Thor early given how well he has been doing in school. And now they are considering the possibility of Thor skipping a grade also known in education circles as grade acceleration.
Some of you may find yourselves in a similar predicament and are wondering what factors to consider when making this decision. Here are four key elements to consider:
1. ACADEMICS: Kindergarten is the age/grade with arguably the widest range of ability. Take a moment to read this post if you haven’t already. If your child is a solid learner (read: responsible), motivated, and has shown consistent mastery well into the next grade level standards across all the content areas (ie. not just in Math), s/he may be a strong candidate to benefit from grade acceleration. Subject matter acceleration is very common and is often embraced by schools, while the practice of skipping a grade is not common place. If your child excels in one subject area, ask about skipping just for that subject. This is fairly common for mathematics especially from fifth grade on.
2. SOCIAL WELL-BEING (MATURITY): Does your child demonstrate maturity above and beyond his peers and/or years? Does your child tend to do better with older kids and feels just as comfortable if not more comfortable with older kids than grade level peers? Research has shown that students who skip a grade are more socially and emotionally satisfied than before skipping a grade. If your child does not exhibit social maturity at this point in time, it may not be the right time to accelerate. However, it is worth revisiting again in a year or two because children mature at different rates, although in my professional opinion, I would not recommend grade acceleration after fourth grade.
3. PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: This isn’t really a big factor given the other three, however, I still felt it is important to include it. How does your child’s physical development compare with students in his/her current grade and those in the grade above? Would you child stick out like a sore thumb if s/he were to skip a grade? Is your child one of the older kids in the grade? (ie. as in my nephew’s case)
4. PARENTAL AND FAMILY SUPPORT: If you haven’t read this post about the developmental assets, take a moment to read it. Without strong parental and family support, skipping a grade may end up being anything but beneficial to the child. Alternatively, with strong parental and family support, the student has far better odds of succeeding.
WHOM TO ENGAGE IN THIS DECISION-MAKING PROCESS:
1. TEACHER(S) (PAST AND PRESENT): If you’re considering the jump, engage your child’s current teacher as early as December, especially if you have been thinking about it for some time. Ask for input from previous teachers as well because they can help provide another perspective and will help you to see the longitudinal picture across a couple of years.
2. SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: The principal is actively engaged in the decision-making process as most districts have paperwork and procedures in place. So it would be best to have the initial discussion with the principal soon after speaking with your child’s current teacher. The principal will be able to walk you through the process. Also, unlike holding a child back, in which case the parent usually has the final say, the final decision regarding skipping a grade lies with the school officials.
3. CHILD: Discuss the idea with your child (if you haven’t done so already). Ask him/her if s/he’s interested? How s/he would feel about making new friends? Does s/he has any fears about skipping ahead? How would s/he feel about being the youngest (and possibly smallest) kid in the grade? How would s/he feel about possibly not being the “smartest” kid in the grade?Is s/he motivated for the challenge and ready to work hard?
4. OTHERS: Ask the principal, teacher, and friends if they know of any other students who have skipped a grade. It would be helpful to hear a firsthand testimony from those students and families about their experience.
While there is plenty of longitudinal research that supports the positive results of grade-skipping–academically and socially, it isn’t for every child. Just because a child qualifies (by all measures) to skip a grade, doesn’t guarantee success. Each and every child is unique, and thus it is very important to engage in a thoughtful decision-making process with a team.