By the time David reached sixth grade, he was
among the top achievers in his school. A whiz at schoolwork, he was a natural
to leapfrog ahead a year. But David was not a gregarious
child and, says his father, would have found the
seventh grade social scene daunting.
As a result, David happily
hung in with his classmates, zipping through regular
lessons, tackling bonus questions and then tutoring
friends who were having a tougher time.
"It boosted his
confidence," says his father. "And it helped the other children
because he was from their peer group."
Miriam easily stood out from the other children in
her kindergarten class. The 4-year-old was reading picture-
less books by the time she started junior kindergarten.
She could do both multiplication and division during third grade. "Counting the dots was inane to her,"
says her mother. "She would write little notes and
pass them along to the other 4-year-olds, and get frustrated
that they couldn't understand."
Yet, despite her having
abilities that obviously exceeded the class level, a suggestion
from her mother that Miriam skip ahead to senior
kindergarten was rejected by her elementary school
Grade skips by gifted students are rarely allowed today
by educators who fear that a child's emotional development
could be at risk. Parents who worry about their children
languishing in classrooms where they are not being
academically challenged are now often accused of pushing
their children too hard. So last year Miriam
received 15 minutes of enrichment math each day while
her junior kindergarten classmates were at recess.
David and Miriam are in good company. In most schools,
skipping a grade is such an anomaly that most educators
can recall only a few students who were promoted ahead
of their peers in decades of years of teaching.
There is no short answer to the question of whether or
not to skip a child. There are so many factors that go into
the debate and this article will highlight some of the pros
and cons. Then you can follow the advice of King Solomon in Proverbs who instructs us to educate each child according to his way.
LEGAL AND MORAL OBLIGATION TO BUILD
INDIVIDUAL PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN
A child's developmental level is the driver. Some thinking
on skipping is that if a child is further ahead academically
than where he is placed, the gap can be filled with
This approach may be sound in theory, but it places a
tremendous burden on already stressed teachers to develop
individual programs for under and over achievers.
Financial challenges are very, very real. Still, it's such a
priority and such a basic part of our beliefs that not having
the time is not accepted as an excuse. Indeed, there is
no doubt in anyone's mind that it is both a legal and moral
obligation to build individual programs for children.
Program modifications can mean a complete overhaul
of grade-by-grade expectations. These program changes
follow a student through elementary and secondary
school, so it's possible for a child who is two or more
years behind in the curriculum to graduate from high
school far short of standard requirements albeit with
diminished expectations for further study.
The challenge of social adjustment is key for children
who move ahead of their age group, particularly those
who do so in the higher elementary grades. At that age, a
few months can make a big difference in how children
view the world, each other and themselves.
"I skipped sixth grade and there were times in seventh and eight
when I felt like a fish out of water", I was once told by a
student. Children who skip a primary grade seem to
weather the change better. Still, the effects continue to be
felt into their teens.
ALWAYS KEEP A CHILD WITHIN THEIR AGE GROUP?
Mrs. K. didn't register the impact of her daughter skipping
grade three until Rachel contemplated (and then
rejected) fast-tracking through high school, doing four
years in three. That would have put her two years ahead
of students her age and, as her mother moans, "She would
have been only 16 going off to seminary. That's too
Luckily for Rachel, she had a tight social network of
older friends, including a big sister that suddenly was in
the same grade, which made the transition a breeze. In
fact, Chani was happy to have her sister in her class,
although the same can't be said for all older siblings, who
can be threatened or, at least, annoyed to find their little
brother or sister catching up.
The first motivation and consideration for skipping a
child is because the child is bored in school. This may be
the first sign of a child that is gifted and skipping is usually
no quick fix to a bright, gifted student.
For many parents, the decisions made by some families
may not be so obvious. If your child is struggling or finds
the work too easy, consider how the school can support
the academic needs without promotion. Many
schools provide opportunities for students to work ahead
of grade level in one or two subjects, either within the
same classroom or with another teacher. Some may have
special advanced programs available for children formally
identified as gifted.
Still, the practice of keeping children
within their age group has its detractors. There is some
concern that bright children may become bored, a view
upheld by some studies. If you don't challenge them,
they'll challenge you. Similarly, some parents are concerned that
promoting children who are not up to level will dilute the
learning of other children.
CONFUSING GIFTEDNESS WITH DISORDERS
There is great confusion in knowing the difference
between a child that is gifted and a child who has some
form of attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD). Too
many children are incorrectly diagnosed with a disorder
when many of these children are actually gifted. Not providing
for their individual needs can be just as detrimental
as not providing for the needs of the learning disabled.
Gifted children are at risk for being identified with
ADD. Most people, including medical professionals, do
not realize that giftedness is often associated with the following
behaviors: Underachieving, anger and frustration,
high energy, intensity, fidgeting, impulsivity, individualistic,
nonconforming, stubborn, disorganization, sloppy,
poor handwriting, forgetful, absentminded, daydreams,
emotional, moody and low interest in details.
Most adults do not recognize a child that is gifted
because they don't really understand what gifted means or
they may believe a child is both ADD and gifted. As a
result, many gifted children these days are being medicated
for a problem they may not have.
Parents, if your child
seems very bright have a qualified psychologist evaluate
him or her for giftedness BEFORE you accept a diagnosis
of ADD with medication.
Many people define the gifted incorrectly. They say
that the gifted are supposed to be model students, teaching
themselves how to spell and perfect their grammar,
win spelling bees, have perfect social skills and become
outstanding achievers. This is true of SOME gifted children.
Many others, however, act out and space out in boring
school settings, and their increasing anger and frustration
may lead to oppositional behavior and underachievement.
They may have sloppy handwriting because of fast
thought processes, miss details, and be unorganized and
forgetful. Some even believe they are stupid.
There is some evidence that as many as half of all children
with IQs above 130 get below average grades, and in
one study 13% of high school dropouts were gifted. In
another study, a full 25% of children diagnosed with
ADHD tested so high in creativity tests they qualified for
Gifted children MUST receive an education that fits
their needs. If they don't, they should be expected to act
out or space out, and it is NOT their fault! Placing them
on medication so that they can tolerate a more boring
school is absurd.
Why do some gifted children act like those with ADD or
ADHD? One reason is that gifted children become
bored easily in settings that average people find tolerable
(like school or work). Boredom leads to restlessness, and
restlessness leads to all sorts of problems. Fast thought
processes could lead not only to boredom but also to poor
handwriting, errors in simple work, disorganization and
Grade skipping is an excellent option for some students.
Children without any serious existing social problems
should adjust quite well. Another method of acceleration
is to allow a child to attend a class in a higher grade for
certain subjects. For example, a second grade child who
is ahead in math, but not in reading, would be part of a
third grade class for math.
BEING LABELED 'GIFTED' AS A STIGMA
Labeling a child "gifted" can cause problems.
Children who are told they succeed because they are
smart often fear failure. They feel they are judged by
their level of intelligence and success is due not to effort,
but to intelligence. Failure means they may not be as
smart as everyone thinks. Therefore, they may avoid trying
anything unless they are certain to succeed.
It is much better to tell a child he or she is being
advanced because of hard work, because that encourages
more effort in the future. You tell your son he is a better
reader because he reads more than his friends, not because
he is smarter. And that he is better in say, Talmud, because
he using thinking skills more than his friends.
While teachers are right to be concerned about the emotional
growth of children, being in a non-challenging
classroom atmosphere can also be damaging. Some
research has shown that moving children up a grade or
two can do a great deal of good academically without
hurting their social and emotional development. A
decade-old University of Michigan study found that gifted
students who are accelerated achieve more than those
who are not moved up.
Despite the research, educators remain skeptical.
"Acceleration works about 95% of the time," said one
rabbi, "and the teacher remembers the child for whom it
didn't work." So when new children's names are suggested
for acceleration, the teacher says, "I don't want to put
this child through that experience."
As with everything
else, acceleration must be kept in perspective. A full-grade
skip should only happen when a student demonstrates
he or she is gifted in all academic areas. When
deemed correct for the student, skipping in the early
grades is better because the move poses a lower risk of
negatively affecting social development.