It's a frustrating scenario: you know your son is bright—so smart, in fact, that you are embarrassed to brag about him to friends. And yet his teacher has called several times to say that he was disruptive in class, or that he hasn't completed his latest project. His grades do not reflect his ability. But every lecture falls on deaf ears.
What's the problem? The answer could be that he is too smart for his class. When left in a classroom that doesn't meet their intellectual levels, gifted children may quickly lose motivation and interest, possibly leading to behavior problems and poor social adjustment.
The goal of any child's education is to meet his or her intellectual needs without sacrificing social or emotional needs. For some children, this means that a classroom based solely upon their age is not the right place for them. The solution for many children in this situation is "acceleration," or moving a child into a higher grade level.
In the report A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students, lead researcher Nicholas Colangelo says skipping a grade makes sense for many gifted children. "Accelerated students feel academically challenged and socially accepted, and they do not fall prey to the boredom that plagues many highly capable students who are forced to follow the curriculum for their age-peers," he says.
And, many gifted children who skip a grade experience a boost in their social life. The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa states that "Acceleration can benefit some children socially because it allows them to socialize with older peers who are more likely to share interests and are closer to the intellectual level of the accelerated child. For some children, acceleration may finally provide the opportunity to make a friend."
Yet acceleration—grade skipping—remains a controversial solution among parents and educators alike, and it's certainly not right for gifted kids who feel socially comfortable with their current set of peers. This is especially true for girls beyond the primary grades.
How can you know if grade-skipping is right for your child?
- If your child is bored at school, or doesn't do his homework because the work is too easy, that could be an indicator that grade skipping is appropriate.
- Standardized testing can determine the difference between someone who is well-educated and one who is intellectually gifted. To advance successfully, some educators indicate that children should have a measured IQ in at least the 98th+ percentiles (IQ measurements vary depending on the test, but 125-130 is a minimum) and should already work at the average level of the desired grade placement.
- Children must demonstrate a desire to advance, and a commitment to learning and completing tasks.
- They need to be well-adjusted emotionally (except for social difficulties that stem from inappropriate school placement), and should not be simultaneously coping with other emotional pressures, such as a divorce in the family.
- Physical health is imperative, but not necessarily a child's size, which may be more of a concern for boys than girls. Some families are deterred by the loss of a high school athletic career.
- Assess how your child handles an unexpected challenge. If he is a perfectionist, easily frustrated, or easily becomes upset over a failure, advancing could be devastating.
Grade skipping is not perfect for everyone, and the decision should be carefully weighed in light of the "whole" child. But if you feel that your child is a good candidate for acceleration, be assertive with your school in requesting that he or she be evaluated.