Danielle Voit: About Grade Skipping and Acceleration
Michael F. Shaughnessy –
1) Danielle, you recently were featured on LINKEDIN, writing about grade skipping or acceleration. What are your main concerns?
While grade skipping and acceleration are often lumped together as one and the same, they’re not. This is a huge misconception. Grade skipping refers to a child who actually skips an entire grade for one, multiple or all subjects. Acceleration, though often confused with grade skipping, is more equivalent to grade compacting. For example, if a child completes mathematics grades 3 and 4 during a single year, that would be acceleration.
When I think about grade skipping, Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind. I first read this poem in sixth grade. He ends the poem with:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In our society, grade skipping is often the road not traveled. You’re going to have to get out your machete and prepare to chop through all the brush to create your own road. It’s going to be an exhaustive process. You need to be well rested and prepared. You need to plan. You need to figure out where this road will lead to. You need to figure out what’s going to be at the end of the road. When a child is grade skipped, people most often take next year into consideration. They don’t look two, three, or even ten years down the line. They only look as far as the bend in the road. This is my main concern with grade skipping. Where do you see your child in two, five, ten and even fifteen years? What is their road, so to speak, going to look like?
2) Is there anyone in your immediate family that has been “accelerated” or grade skipped and how did it work out?
My younger brother grade skipped — a lot. There are a few ways to look at this. For one, HEROES wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t grade skipped. HEROES exists because he grade skipped. It exists because grade skipping was the best option for him, at the time. I don’t think it’s the best option. I think that we need other options. However, for many students grade skipping may still be the best option for them, at the time, with the options that they have available.
My younger brother didn’t choose to be the poster child for HEROES. He was. In many ways, he still is. However, he didn’t choose it. For that reason, I’m going to leave his name out of this. Anyways, he skipped fourth grade. Then, he proceeded to skip another six grades — he left seventh grade mid-year for college. It was an all encompassing family project. For him, I think it worked out pretty well. My mom required him to finish all of the standard “high school distributions” at a college level. Colleges require distributions to a degree. However, they assume that you took classes such as American History, World History, a foreign language, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc. during high school. So, their distributions are less rigid. My mom wanted to make sure that he still had a well-rounded education.
Plus, it’s really hard for an 11 year old child to make a decision about what they want to do for the rest of their life. Think back to when you were eleven years old, what did you want to be when you “grew up?” When I was five, I REALLY wanted to drive the ‘magic school bus.’ Then, I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher (I came pretty close, I guess). Then, I wanted to be a translator for the UN. At one point, I wanted to be a graphic designer. My younger brother wanted to be a biologist, an astrophysicist….the list goes on. He took classes in all of these things. One astrophysics class involved a lot of computer programming. He didn’t like astrophysics but he liked the programming aspect. That’s where he eventually landed.
A big concern with grade skipping is the social/emotional aspect. For him, I think he actually found more friends at the University level. They weren’t classmates. He befriended his professors. They were great mentors for him too. He connected with them on an academic level. He had a very limited social life in grade school, to say the least. So, this wasn’t really an ‘issue’ for him. On an emotional level, I think that grade skipping helped him. College level classes stimulated his brain. However, I also think that this path eventually took its toll. At some point, I think every gifted child wants to stop being categorized as ‘the smart kid.’ However, it can be tough to handle when eventually, their not. Eventually, he wasn’t so young. It became less noticeable. I think that this was good for him. It was also hard.
3) Let’s talk about the pros, the cons and the concerns. What is the good, the bad and the ugly if you will about grade skipping?
That’s a huge question. The reality is this — that is different for each and every child. I know that’s not really the answer you, or anyone else, is looking for. Grade skipping isn’t for everyone. However, I’ve seen it work with many students. For my younger brother, it was the best option for him at the time. For many other students, it is the best option for them — at that moment in time — with the resources that are available.
I’ve seen many students grade skip. Then, they decide to take some “time off” from school because well, why not? They are already so far ahead. Sometimes, however, they take a long time off. It’s not planned. It just happens. One semester or one year off leads to another and another. Before you know it, the child isn’t ahead anymore. They’re not even “on track.” They’re behind.
It can also be difficult for students who have thriving social lives especially if their class knows that they grade skipped. This can make for a difficult social situation. It can be isolating. Kids can be mean. It’s the sad truth. They also may not be ready for the social norms of their older classmates.
If your child grade skips extensively, as my brother did, then you really have to be prepared for the future — the distant future. It needs to be a full family discussion. Grade skipping doesn’t just affect one child, it affects the entire family. It definitely affects siblings. This is especially true if a younger sibling is suddenly in the same, or higher, grade as an older child. That can be really hard to handle. It really all depends on the child and, really, the entire family. Each case is different. Plan. Plan extensively. Talk. Talk with the child, the school, their sibling. It’s not a decision to take lightly. As I said, you need to be prepared to take out a machete and clear your own path.
You need to be prepared for the bumps in the road because your path isn’t going to be paved. It’s not even a gravel road. It has rough edges, rocks poking out and obstacles in the way.
4) Danielle, how well prepared do you think the average teacher is to handle a child that has been accelerated?
The average teacher can’t handle a child that has to be accelerated. As I said, acceleration and grade skipping are two different practices. A teacher has, on average 25 or more students. They simply cannot be expected to move one child along at a faster pace than the rest of the class.
If a child is appropriately grade skipped then it shouldn’t be an issue at all. The child should only be grade skipped if they are truly ready for the material. The teacher shouldn’t have to differentiate because the child wasn’t prepared. If the child isn’t prepared then they shouldn’t be grade skipped. If you grade skip a child, they need to be ready for all of the higher level academics. If a child is very accelerated in math but they aren’t as accelerated in language arts, then you can’t just plop that child into a higher grade. Then, you need to look at subject acceleration. It all comes down to proper evaluations and assessments.
5) Why should schools and parents at least consider it as an option or alternative to boredom in the regular classroom?
Schools should definitely consider grade skipping as an option because it’s probably the least expensive and most effective alternative for managing the academics of gifted students. It’s not perfect. However, it can make a huge difference. Although, if grade skipping is really done right then the evaluation process could be fairly costly.
Parents should consider grade skipping if all other options are exhausted. Parents should explore grade skipping when nothing else works. Grade skipping isn’t just about the academics. There are so many other factors that come into play. My younger brother was skipping school. When he did go to school, he left or simply refused to do the work. If he didn’t grade skip, he definitely wasn’t going to make it through to graduation. He didn’t have a reason to go to school. He didn’t play sports. He wasn’t in any clubs.
He didn’t fit in with his peers. He wanted to know why he “had to go to school.” We couldn’t give him one. The only reason we could think of was “because it’s what you’re supposed to do.” That certainly isn’t a good reason. I’d also like to note that when he left seventh grade, he was partially homeschooled. He didn’t attend college full time until he was sixteen. He took some online classes. He did some independent studying. He went to college for a few classes. For him, this was what worked.
6) What have I neglected to ask?
I can’t really think of a particular question. However, I want to take this time to note this: You need to think about WHY you want to grade skip your child. I’ve talked to so many parents. Don’t grade skip your child because you want to brag about it. Quite frankly, this just makes it harder on the child. They begin to feel as if their academic abilities define them. Don’t ever think that you WANT your child to start college at 12 or 14 years old. Think about this instead: Is this what your child needs? Is this what your child WANTS? Are there any other options? Grade skipping just one grade isn’t so bad. However, if your child really learns at a faster pace then- they will likely ‘need’ to grade skip again.