Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Grade-Skipping Should Be Back in Fashion

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews tackles the issue of acceleration in his Class Matters post today, called "Why Grade Skipping Should Be Back in Fashion."

Noting research from Belin-Blank (and also citing Gifted Exchange!) Mathews argues what we long have: that acceleration is a budget-friendly and effective way to challenge gifted kids. It is often better than the short pull-out sessions that pass for gifted education these days, and also avoids most of the political issues around gifted education: namely, that gifted kids get "special" stuff like trips to science museums, more fun classes, etc. With acceleration, they get the same education as everyone else. Just earlier.

Yet few schools have embraced acceleration. We have this notion that children do best when they are around kids of the same age, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. For most of the history of education, classrooms were multi-age. Kids learn at home too, and play with their brothers and sisters of different ages. A mere glance around a 6th grade classroom will find that 12-year-olds can be at vastly different stages of development anyway. Furthermore, few adults have such restrictions on our working and social relationships. I am glad to have friends who are both older and younger than me, and I'm not sure why schools are so averse to similar things.


C T said...

A charter school under the umbrella of Colorado Springs School District 11 -- -- just opened this year. It has multi-age homeroom classrooms and puts children into the morning math and language arts classes according to where they are in those two subjects instead of grouping by age. I look forward to seeing how things turn out with it. It seems like a brilliant idea because you can accelerate a child for just part of the day and then return them to a group of similarly-aged children for the rest of the day, thus resolving many concerns about social issues connected with acceleration.

Jamie said...

I was skipped ahead as a kid with a summer birthday and it was really hard to be a sixth/seventh/eighth-grader (and even freshman/sophomore -- I wasn't the same size as my peers until sophomore year) who was conspicuously less physically and emotionally mature than the other kids. Now that it's over, I'm glad I graduated from college at 20, but I'm not sure I'd do it for (to?) one of my own kids.

I wonder how the growth of redshirting has changed things for kids who skip grades these days. I would worry that an accelerated kid would be even more vulnerable to the kinds of bullying I experienced. I suppose it's possible that it makes kids more used to a broad span of ages in the classroom.

Lisa said...

To address Jamie's point, I guess if kids were all placed where they belonged academically, there would be such a wide age-range in every class that one poor small child wouldn't stand out quite so much.

I love the idea of schools organizing their schedules so that subjects are taught in the same time periods for all grades, and kids can just trundle down the hall to the one that's at their level.

Why is that so hard for school administrators to conceptualize, let alone attempt?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I was very small throughout grade school and high school. I would have been the youngest in my grade even if I hadn't skipped a year. There was some bullying, but there probably would have been just as much if I had been a year older, as I got my growth late anyway. I was 19 when I got my BS, but I didn't get my PhD until I was 28. Grad school was fun!

I haven't pushed for my son to be grade skipped, though he is at least as smart as I was, because we've had pretty good luck with schools giving him placement by achievement in math, and ok differentiation in English and history. Science has been the main problem with getting decent education, and moving up a year would not have helped.

Kumar Singam said...

Mathews is simply parroting what many of us have said and accomplished in the Washington, DC metro area. See:

Asia has long embraced grade-skipping, albeit quietly. Grade-skipping works. However, its popularity is diminished by the lack of a label with a cachet that parents would like.

lgm said...

Whether grade skipping works or not depends on the quality of the school and the demographics. My child was skipped in elementary after the district dropped ability/acheivement grouping for LA & math and went to whole class full inclusion; it was fun for the first days, then the depth and pace issues popped up. We ended up doing independent study with him and using the services of the school psychologist so that he wouldn't be harmed by the more jealous new classmates. Middle school as a younger kid has been just issues at all other than slow rate&pace and plenty of mature, peaceful classmates in the honors program.

Most students would be served better by going back to acheivement/ability grouping so that they can work at their instructional level and pace most of the time in the classroom.

Meg said...

I saw this article reprinted in our local paper with your name mentioned. I wish there was more opportunity for subject acceleration. Grade skipping can work really well for some kids, but it is hard to know at a young age how they will mature. My oldest would have been a good candidate for a skip academically, but socially he was behind and his willingness to tackle challenges needed time to mature. He was much better served by challenging classes and outside activities. Subject acceleration would have served him even better.

Kari said...

I agree that grade skipping should be back in fashion -- with a caveat. I skipped a grade, and both of my children are also a year ahead. Good moves for both of them, so far.

The caveat is that I'd love to see the "gap year" come into fashion in this country, especially for bright kids who finish high school young but could use a little finishing off before college. Volunteering, travel, work -- that year can give kids a lot and let them grow up a little more. I didn't get it, and wish I had, so I'm planning to build it in for my kids.