Care and Feeding

Grade Skipping

Is that still a thing for gifted kids?

A young girl doing difficult math on a chalkboard.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email askateacher@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

This week’s Ask a Teacher panel:
Brandon Hersey, second grade, Washington
Katie Holbrook, high school, Texas
Amy Scott, eighth grade, North Carolina
Matthew Dicks, fifth grade, Connecticut

My daughter is a very bright first grader, excelling at both reading and math well beyond her grade level. Because of this, she has become quite bored and disengaged with school, and has even asked if I could teach her at home full time (not currently a viable option). The school did respond to the situation, but the response was not robust, and I am considering transferring her to another district that has a gifted program. In the meantime, I am teaching her higher-level math and science at home. My parents have asked why I don’t just have her skip a grade. While it used to be more common, this option has not been presented to me by the school, and I have not heard of any child skipping a grade in years. Is grade skipping still a thing? Is it too late to consider, as she would skip from second grade to third?

—Evaluating Options

Hey there, EO,

Wow! Your kiddo sounds like quite the math whiz. I feel her pain—sitting through material that is too easy can be a real drag.

As for skipping a grade, that is a fantastic question. You’re right that around the time you were probably growing up, very bright kids sometimes skipped a grade. You’re also right that it’s not really a common option for gifted students these days. To be honest, when I got your question, I wasn’t sure why this practice fizzled out, so I asked a few veteran teachers.

This is what I learned: In their opinion, as highly capable or “gifted” programs expanded into more districts, the demand to skip a grade began to wean. Parents preferred the idea of keeping kids with their classmates rather than uprooting them from their friend groups. Another factor has been the rise in online learning services, which have allowed parents to enrich their children’s education at home while keeping them with their peers at school.

That being said, while less common, grade skipping still exists. If you’re interested in it for your daughter, you can ask your school whether it’s a possibility, though I wouldn’t make any changes right this minute. We’re entering the homestretch for this school year, and most other classrooms are fairly deep into their curricula. You should also, of course, consider the social aspect of this potential path. Moving her up means starting a new grade level and adjusting to a new group of (slightly) older kids.

Hope this helps!

—Mr. Hersey

I am in my 20th year of teaching an elective foreign language, and I currently work at a Title 1 high school. I am passionate about what I teach, and I love helping my students learn and grow. I am also completely swamped with lesson planning, grading, department meetings, committee meetings, parent night, cafeteria duty, professional development, club sponsorship, emails, and all we teachers do outside regular instructional time. I have successfully built up my program to the point where the school will be adding two upper levels of my subject next year—but not hiring any additional staff.

These upper levels will be very rigorous test prep classes (think AP or IB) that will require even more training, curriculum development, meetings, committees, information nights, grading, and so on. I am already stretched extremely thin during the day, and I have family responsibilities outside the classroom that prevent me from taking home more work. Additionally, I have some very scary health concerns that require me to spend time going to doctor appointments, meal-prepping healthy food, exercising, and generally taking care of myself. However, that is the first thing to go when I get another late afternoon meeting on my calendar. How can I balance the increased demands of teaching this upper-level program with my need to take care of myself? How can I be professional but say no to some of these meetings and requests? I want to be a great educator but also live long enough to enjoy my retirement.

—Dying to Teach

Dear DtT,

Our culture loves to glorify teachers who commit their entire lives to their students, to the detriment of their own families and health. (Think Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, etc.) Memes and articles about selfless teachers who make profound sacrifices for their careers don’t take into account the toll those sacrifices exact on teachers’ well-being. Giving every ounce of your time and energy to your job is not sustainable, even if you are passionate about teaching.

You have the right to live! You should be able to live and teach at the same time! But you obviously can’t at your current pace. I hereby give you permission to say “No” to more things. Resign from committees, pass the torch on club sponsorship, and let some of those emails languish in your inbox. Say “No” to last-minute meetings that stretch on into the evening.

I realize this is hard to do. It may feel “unprofessional” or even scary, but it is necessary. Consider what you must prioritize in order to teach your foreign language. Consider which balls you can let drop. Some of those balls may need to roll under the couch to be picked up later (or forgotten entirely).

I will give you one more tip: You don’t have to grade everything. You mentioned that your upper-level course will require significant grading. As a high school English teacher, grading is the bane of my existence. I love to teach writing, but grading compositions is a beast. Obviously I have to grade essays–I’m an English teacher. But I don’t have to grade every single task my students complete. Students will take notes, annotate poems, create graphic organizers, and participate in discussions, but they won’t get a grade every time. My district requires one grade per week, so that’s what I do. Sometimes the grade is an essay, but other times it’s a scannable multiple-choice quiz. Are multiple-choice questions as rigorous as open-ended ones? Nope. But they save me loads of time. And you know what? Everyone is just fine.

When I had children, I could not continue being the type of teacher I was pre-baby. While I genuinely love my students and my work, I love my own children more. And they need me! I think they need me more than my students need me. They definitely need me more than any committee or after school club. Your health is more important than any of your responsibilities at school. Protect it.

—Ms. Holbrook

Our 4-year old is very bright. She’s currently enrolled at a language immersion school that has a preschool program. Upon the recommendation of her teachers, she tested to enter kindergarten a bit early—they feel she is ready academically, socially, and emotionally. She tested to attend both the dual-language immersion program she already attends as a preschooler as well as the accelerated program at the district magnet school. She was accepted into both programs. We now have the happy dilemma of choosing between dual-language or the accelerated program, and we are torn. I’d love your thoughts and recommendations.

—Bilingüe o No?

Dear BoN,

What a great yet difficult position you’re in! If it were my child, I’d likely stick with the dual-language program. Being bilingual and biliterate is hugely valuable. If you google “benefits of bilingualism,” you’ll find the obvious ones like ease of travel and access to more job opportunities.

Learning another language can clarify English for children, too, and it also makes it easier to eventually learn a third (or fourth!) language. I had extensive grammar instruction in middle school, but it wasn’t until my high school Spanish teacher taught us more obscure verb tenses that I finally understood them in English. And later, learning Italian grammar was a cinch.

There are additional advantages that are less obvious. Did you know that speaking another language may make you more open-minded? Or that it can delay cognitive issues associated with aging?

Perhaps not least, considering our current political climate, knowing another language gives the speaker insight into linguistic and cultural diversity. Speaking another language makes it easier to understand the historical and political issues of other countries, and perhaps even those of one’s own.

I’m sure the accelerated program is great, but here’s one more thing that tips the scales for me: While it’s possible to accelerate a bilingual program, the accelerated program won’t be offered in another language.

Over the past decade, there’s been a major push in education toward differentiation. This means that teachers are expected to meet different students’ needs in four ways: content (what they learn), process (how they learn it), environment (where they learn it), and product (what they’re expected to produce). Your daughter can and should be pushed to learn advanced content and create complex products in both languages. Her teachers can and should challenge her academically and intellectually.

When I combine all the advantages of bilingual education with the probability of accelerated education, that side wins for me.

—Ms. Scott

My question is related to a recent answer you gave another letter writer about not starting kindergarten before it’s absolutely necessary. How do you feel about holding kids back from kindergarten even though they meet the age qualification?

My daughter has a late August birthday, right before my district’s cutoff, so she should be entering kindergarten this fall. However, I can think of one big reason to send her in the fall and lots of little reasons to hold her back. Intellectually, she seems more than ready—her preschool teachers all say she’s very bright. But I’m unsure about her social and emotional development—her teachers say she’s about average in this area.

I like the idea of enjoying her early childhood for one more year, as you point out. She also has a younger sibling with an early October birthday, so if I send her to kindergarten now, even though she and her sister are almost exactly two years apart in terms of age, they would be three years apart in school, which seems weird and unfair for both of them.

I have to admit, part of what’s getting me worked up about this issue is that I also have an August birthday, and I was an intellectually precocious kid who was bored out of my mind most of the time until I went to college. I was also way behind socially and emotionally, although I was so far behind in that respect I don’t think waiting a year would have helped me much. However, she’s not me. I’d love to get your thoughts.

—Ready or Not, Here She Comes?

Dear RoNHSC,

I wouldn’t allow your specific and unfortunate experience as a child to influence this decision. Though it’s a shame that you were bored out of your mind at times in school, I’m sure that you’ll be able to prevent this from happening to your daughter through advocacy and enrichment, especially considering what you know now. Your awareness alone should be enough to help your child if she isn’t being challenged.

I stand by my original position: Childhood is the most precious time in the life of a human being. Make it last as long as possible. Steal that extra year for both you and your child.

You also make a good point: Though your daughter may be intellectually ready for kindergarten, social and emotional development is as important, and it is often the source of the greatest struggle for children. There are lots of ways to help a child who is struggling in reading or math, but maturity isn’t something that can be taught. It takes time. Giving your child an extra year to mature and further develop her social skills will only help her in the future.

—Mr. Dicks