Sunday, October 02, 2005

The War Against Grade-Skipping

I came across two interesting news items in the past week about children who sail over the age-grade lockstep (i.e., who "accelerate" or skip grades).

First, 5-year-old Alison Bomkamp and the Kenton County School District in Kentucky are battling over a $3,000 bill the district sent her parents. Young Alison was doing fine reading and writing, so her parents put her in first grade, instead of her age-grade of kindergarten. One problem: Kentucky only pays for half-day kindergarten. Since Alison, as a 5-year-old, is now using a whole day's worth of schooling every day, when 5-year-olds are supposed to be using only a half-day, the district sent her parents a bill for $3,000. That amounts to half the cost of educating a student for a year in the district.

I'm serious. You can read about it here:

Leave aside the fact that this makes no sense (Alison is saving the school district money, in fact -- she'll only use 12 years of schooling, or grades 1-12, instead of 13, or K-12). It's part of a broader distrust of grade-skipping. Around the country, parents and teachers are being told that grade-skipping is undesirable. For instance, the second news item, from the Northwest Arkansas Times.

The school board in Elkins, Arkansas just approved an official acceleration policy. Read about it here:§ion=News&storyid=32508

I'm happy they approved a policy. But read the quotes in the article from Superintendent Allen:

>>While the district now has a policy in place to evaluate such requests, Allen said acceleration should probably be done only on rare occasions. It should not be a regular occurrence.

There are many advanced students who would be better served staying in the same grade, Allen said. Based on Elkins’ enrollment, Allen has estimated the district probably shouldn’t accelerate more than one or two students a year.

If it becomes much more common, they should revisit the policy, he said. "I think it would be worse to promote a child and then later put him back down," he said.

Years ago while working as a math teacher, Allen recalled, the school he worked for instituted an Algebra program for young math students. Several children who were placed in the program struggled because they weren’t ready for math at that level, and moving them up early turned out to not be in their best interests.<<

Ah, it's that "one child" or "several children" from "years ago." Sometime I would like to meet this one child who had such a horrible experience with grade acceleration that she's kept countless others from moving ahead at their own level. It must have been so horrible on this one child, that the Kenton County school district in Kentucky is charging the Bomkamps $3,000 lest they be tempted to put their daughter through such a horrible ordeal!

Nonsense. I am married to a man who is 10 years older than me. I work with people my age, people younger than me, people 25 years older than I am. I am happy to count among my friends people who are 20 and people who could be my parents. School is the only time in life you spend the majority of your time with people who have birthdates within 6 months of your own. So why are so many school districts, like these in Kentucky and Arkansas, so enamored with keeping students in their place?


Carmen said...

This, as well as NCLB, just gives me an uneasy suspicion that some are trying to alter the definition of "education" to include "making everyone the same." How easy it must seem to drag down or hold back the gifted to meet this aim.

june said...

Political forces and the issuance of money for grade level peformance
do not motivate decision makers to
always choose what may be the appropriate mode of instruction for some gifted learners, in my opinion. My advocacy battle, resulting in a formal complaint to the state resulted in my child receiving compensatory service in three subject areas. During this two year battle, I spent my free time learning and strategizing.
Both of my children have received
accelerative options, not because
they are the only children who need them in order to make observable and measurable gains, but because they are the only children whose parent fought like heck and never gave up, no matter how embroiled the battle became. It was both an amazing and demoralizing event for me but I can
FINALLY believe my children will be learning something when they go to school. If the district does not
embrace acceleration, parents can empower themselves with knowledge
and persistence. It may well fall upon the parents to see that adequate provisions are provided for their child when a system does not feel the need to perform that task. I fought LONG and HARD with two resistant schools and one flexible school. I was humbled when the flexible school actually
implemented acceleration for many other students into their program as a direct result of my advocacy.
It was the worst battle of my life
and yet the noblest. Go out there
and arm yourself with knowledge...
you are your child's advocate.

Laura Vanderkam said...

June - it's true what you say about one person having to fight the battle and that, occasionally, schools don't make other parents fight after that. I was bussed to the high school for math my 8th grade year. This would have been a great solution for, say, 7th grade too, but I'm glad the school district elected to make it an option for my 8th grade year. I don't think it had been done before, but the year after me, several children were bussed to the high school for math. Had no one before me been able to handle a high school course? Doubtful. But maybe no one asked.

Joni said...

There are some districts that do a good job with acceleration. Our district doesn't do full acceleration too often, but they have a "pyramid" program where students are accelerated 1 or 2 grades in Math and Language Arts, called Tier 3 or 4, and have enrichment in Social Studies and Science, called Tier 2. (like the honors classes in high school) This works by challenging students academically, while keeping them in their grade level. When they get to high school, they have the room in their schedules to take AP classes and electives classes (my son, for instance, wants to take Humanites and Holocaust Studies) It isn't a perfect program, but compared to other districts, it's great!

eileen said...

If schools feel they have the right to send parents bills for school services they feel the child shouldn't be using, then do parents have the right to send their school districts bills for all the enrichment courses they have to pay for because the school isn't providing their child what every child in this country has a constitutional right to; an appropriate education? My child is 2 grades accelerated in all subjects and 3 in math (incidentally his weakest subject, but the only advanced program the school has to offer) and he is still not challenged so I have to pay for enrichment courses. When I asked for more subject acceleration they would not budge this time. There is an 8th grade girl in my childs class whose mother fought all summer long to have her take one class at the High School. They finally and reluctently relented. The girl can take one LA class but the mother has to get her to and from the high school herself. The girl is not being given any credit for the class and I just found out from her that she is also still having to take her regular LA class in 8th grade. So what happened actually amount to a punishment for this kid for having parents who advocated for her.

Trent said...

It is unfortunate that kids can't skip grades easily when they have displayed potential and ability. When I was in the second grade my teacher suggested that I be skipped, but I wasn't allowed to. But in my case that has prooved a blessing, because this fall I will be attending the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. I think that if we make opportunities available to older kids, such as government-funded boarding schools, grade skipping, or not, won't be nescessary.