Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Without skipping a grade"

Kay Williams, director of the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction of the Montgomery County Public Schools, wrote a letter to the editor of Education Week regarding Richard Whitmire and my recent commentary "What Ever Happened to Grade Skipping?" We had noted that Montgomery County was debating whether to label 2nd graders as gifted or not gifted.

In her note, Ms. Williams highlights the various options that Montgomery County uses, such as allowing 8th graders to take algebra, and offering AP classes. She states that "acceleration is already an integral part of the program options in Montgomery County public schools" -- at least with math (the examples she notes, and which is the one subject schools tend to allow some acceleration in).

But what was most interesting to me is her statement that "The district’s systemwide model for acceleration ensures that students can access an appropriate, above-grade-level curriculum every day without skipping a grade." This was our main point -- why is it considered so horrible to skip a whole grade? Or two or three? Often highly gifted young people are ahead of their peers in many subjects, and need more mature classmates in order to fit in, socially, as well. If Montgomery County has a systemwide model in order to ensure that no one need (horrors!) skip a grade, this seems to show that the prejudice is alive and well.

11 comments:

Kevin said...

Algebra in 8th grade? not much of a bonus for an EG kid. At my son's private school, there were 2 7th graders in geometry last year, in Algebra 2 in 8th grade. There is a 6th grader in algebra 1 this year, and 1 in geometry. And this is at a school that prides itself on arts, with academics as a bit of an afterthought.

Subject acceleration is often a better solution than whole-grade acceleration (kids often have uneven abilities), but both should certainly be available options.

Jeremy said...

This is the norm in our school district's homelearning program as well -- they're willing to do subject acceleration, but not a full skip. Seems like an arbitrary distinction, as our girls are doing several subjects a grade (or more) above their age levels. They're not sure what to say when people ask them what grade they're in.

The Princess Mom said...

Not to be cynical, but this makes perfect sense. The schools get money for each student they educate. The longer they can hold onto them, the better.

Kirsten said...

Oh yes. There is absolutely no system for allowing grade skips in Montgomery County, MD.

Principals have some discretion, but the system above them completely frowns on it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

I'm an MCPS alum and I'm against grade skipping. Seeing as I skipped all of high school (which you've written about in the past), you probably find that amusing.

I think students should definitely be allowed to accelerate in certain subjects. But I think that intellectual maturity is not always matched by social maturity and students do need to spend some time with their age peers.

In elementary school, I don't think that grade skipping is such a big deal. But I found that in junior high, the physical/pubescent differences between me and my classmates were overwhelming, even though I started kindergarten at age 4 and didn't skip any grades. My classmates who had skipped grades and were physically maturing a normal rate for their age were completely excluded from much of the social life.

At the high school level, I think having a social peer group is especially important. My parents would not have allowed me to skip high school if I had not been able to attend an accelerated program where I was still surrounded by age peers. Even in a boarding school style setting with appropriate guidance and limits, many, if not most of my classmates were not prepared to live independently and socially interact on the same level as their older academic peers.

Finally, I see most of the commenters here are parents, rather than the students themselves. Given that specialized public education for gifted children is a fairly new phenomenon (approx. 40 years) , I think that many of the parents of gifted children have not had the same educational experiences as their children and do not fully understand the consequences. There are enough alumni/survivors of all the various experiments in gifted education that they could and should seek out their stories before embarking on a plan.

Noshua

Jeremy said...

Good points, Noshua, but you forget that many of the parents of today's students *were* allowed to skip -- no gifted programs or subject acceleration, but skipping seemed to more more acceptable 30 years ago.

din819go said...

Gifted or not...I believe children should be able to be accelerated by subject if needed or held back by subject if needed...

As someone mentioned ---money...there is a lot of money for some to be made in education...

Dani McEvoy said...

My daughter when in Kindergarden, amidst testing to advance to 1st, said to me about educators not allowing grade skipping, " They're discriminating against me because of my age and my ability." The prefix "dis" should be added because the schools are not enabling her to learn or progress. For gifted kids, school is disability.

SwitchedOnMom said...

I live in Montgomery County and have been blogging about gifted education issues here for the past 2 years.

I've posted my take on this exchange at http://themorechild.com/2009/09/18/go-laura-sorry-kay/

On the one hand MCPS can be commended for having the gifted services that it does. But when those "services" become a straight jacket that deny acceleration as a viable educational option for some children, and holds them back, it's a problem. When gifted services morph into a belief that "everyone is gifted" then we have problem. Yes, raise the bar. But don't in the process ignore the legitimate needs, the very existence of, gifted students.

Laura's EdWeek piece was written in early August. In the meantime there has been a case in the county that starkly illustrated MCPS hostility to grade skipping. The particulars, of a 9 year old who completed 5th grade as a homeschooler, was admitted and then denied admittance to an MCPS middle school, are linked to in my blog. The story had a happy outcome, in that the principal ultimately exerted her authority and went against the wishes of the highest levels of MCPS leadership. But the ugly truth is out.

nbosch said...

I've heard people in the past say 'we don't accelerated in our district". Hogwash, I find it hard to believe that a district could get away with saying that--I'm sure any case taken to due process would allow what is best for the child. We all read that huge study several years ago that suggested acceleration was a great option for many bright kids. I've taught gifted kids for 25 years and having raised three gifted kids , two of them skipped kindergarten, I would be hard pressed as a parent to allow a district to say "we don't do that".

Becky said...

I doubt there is a blanket right or wrong about this, but I do think it is good for a district to have to seriously consider before grade skipping a child. The potential implications of a social/biological maturation mismatch can affect a child for YEARS. I wonder how many children are a grade or two ahead of their age group in most or all facets of development. After all, asynchronous development is almost a hallmark of giftedness.