It seems logical that gifted children should soar through their school years, loving every minute and gaining from each class. Unfortunately, that’s far from the case. Gifted students, or those who are intellectually beyond their peers in some way, often struggle in school—but not with academics. They struggle with boredom.
If your child seems bored in school, one way to keep him challenged is to push him ahead to the next grade. Keep in mind, though, that grade-skipping doesn’t always work out well. How can you decide if grade-skipping would help your child? Rita R. Culross, professor at Louisiana State University and author of Counseling the Gifted, says that these four steps can help you decide whether grade-skipping is right for your child.
Step 1: Evaluation
Before encouraging your child to skip a grade, it is important for her to undergo a comprehensive psychological evaluation that measures her intellectual functioning, academic skill levels and social-emotional adjustment. If your child falls short of any of the following criteria, you should seriously consider using a different method than grade-skipping to accelerate her learning:
- Your child should either have an IQ of 125 or higher, or her mental development should be higher than the average student in the grade that she would be joining.
- Your child should be capable of greater academic skills than the average student in the grade she would be joining. This should be true across the board, in all subjects. (If your child is hung up by only one school subject, you may want to consider a combination of grade-skipping and tutoring in that one subject.)
- Your child should not have any serious social or emotional problems. Culross says that gifted students are generally socially and emotionally mature for their age, but if your child is at all immature or has problems socially, you may want to consider alternatives to grade-skipping.
- Your child should be highly persistent and motivated to learn. (In some cases, however, students who are bored in their current classes may seem to have lost their intrinsic motivation. If this is the case, you can still consider grade-skipping for your child.)
- Your child should be physically healthy and as mature as her peers, or more so. In specific situations where competitive sports will be important to your child in later grades, you may want to consider grade-skipping only if your child is physically large and mature enough to compete with students a year older.
Step 2: Motivation
After you make sure that your child is a candidate for grade-skipping, it’s important to think about why you are considering it in the first place. Does your child actually feel motivated to skip a grade, and excited about the prospect? Or have you been putting pressure on her to consider it? If the motivation comes from your child, she’ll be much more likely to succeed. You can ask the psychologist who is performing the evaluation to judge whether your child is motivated enough to be successful.
Step 3: Timing
Generally, it’s considered best to switch your child from one grade to the other at the beginning of the school year. But switching in the middle of the school year may be more helpful if you’d like your child’s previous and future teacher to work together to support your child’s transition—a request that’s hard to fulfill when both teachers are on vacation.
Also, make sure you feel good about the teacher whose class your child would be switching into. Some teachers seem overly pessimistic about grade-skipping and think that the new student will not be mature. Teacher support is essential when a child is skipping a grade, especially in helping the child transition from one classroom and group of peers to another. If the teacher doesn’t seem receptive to the idea, you may want to consider pushing it off for another year.
Step 4: Trial Period
If your child’s situation meets all of the above criteria, set a trial period of six weeks to give your child time to adjust to her new class. Make sure that your child realizes that this is a trial period—that she can switch back if the changes don’t seem helpful, and doing so would not make her a failure. During this time, your child may find it helpful to talk to a school counselor to help smooth the transition.
But what if your child doesn’t fit these criteria, or if the trial period bombs? According to Culross, there are many more ways to “accelerate” students, and grade-skipping is only one of them. Talk with the administrators at your child’s school about other methods that might work. Choices include curriculum compacting, mentoring, online independent study classes, or subject-matter acceleration. Whatever your decision, your goal and the goal of the school administration should always be to find the best way to meet your child’s needs.