Saxon Scott was 5 years old when her parents decided she could do without kindergarten. She’d sailed through a series of tests that measured her acumen, and moved directly to first grade once preschool ended. Now she’s 15 and a high school junior, and Scott thinks nothing of her relative youth. She continues to shine in the classroom, is friendly with students in her grade, and only briefly laments the fact that she won’t be driving until the end of her freshman year in college. “As someone who skipped kindergarten, I can say it wasn’t a big deal,” Scott said.

Skipping grades used to be a common strategy to keep gifted or very bright children engaged in learning; it was a simple intervention that worked well when schools were smaller, more flexible and lacking enrichment programs. But today, according to a recent report by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, just 1 percent of students jumps a grade level.

The practice has fallen out of favor among parents and teachers for a variety of reasons. “Like any system, schools like it when all parts are identical, and all kids are the same,” explained Michael S. Matthews, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and contributor to the Johns Hopkins study. Few teachers have classroom experience working with accelerated students and so resist the change. Schools generally lack the systems and policies to determine fairly which students can be skipped. For parents, the effect on a child’s social and emotional development is the main objection to bumping them up. Their worries center on what educational assessment expert Katie McClarty calls “the three D’s”: drinking, driving and dating.

A parent named Chelle had a different set of worries when she considered whether or not her daughter Jordan should skip first grade. It was the start of the school year and Jordan was misbehaving—uncharacteristically—in class. Yet the child would come home after school and sail through her brother’s third-grade math homework. When Chelle contemplated the idea of grade skipping with other parents, “Everyone had a very strong opinion,” she said. “’Don’t take away her childhood!’” some told her.

Chelle worried most about interfering with her daughter’s natural gregariousness and willingness to take the lead. But after testing showed that Jordan could handle advanced material, Chelle quickly moved her into second grade and hoped for the best. Now, years later, she is thankful for her decision. “Jordan has done very well. She has made great friends with other girls, and is one of the strongest leaders,” Chelle said. “It’s a non-issue by now.”

Several studies indicate that grade skipping is largely beneficial for able children and devoid of significant drawbacks. A 2011 review of 38 studies on grade skipping asserts that gifted students who passed over a grade achieved more academically than their equally qualified peers who remained in the “appropriate” grade level. A 2015 study on gifted children carried out at the University of Iowa, A Nation Empowered, concludes that accelerating children helps them academically and socially. The worry that grade-skipped kids will fall behind or slip to the middle is without merit, Matthews said.

How many kids would benefit from grade skipping? According to the study team at Johns Hopkins, two out of seven children test at a grade level higher than their current one—“staggeringly large numbers of students,” in their words, who might benefit from jumping ahead by grade or class. Advocates of accelerated learning point out that skipping a grade is just one way to jump ahead. In middle and high school, students can more easily move in and out of higher-level classes without missing an entire grade. And technology has eased the way for accelerated learning. Children living in remote parts of the country, for example, can move up by taking AP classes online.

As much as proponents of grade skipping encourage families to consider the intervention, they also recognize that it won’t suit every child, and that schools have work to do before they embrace the idea on a large scale. Research shows that the social and emotional development of children who skip grades is usually not harmed—and might even be helped—but some children might not be ready for it.

“Grade skipping is not the answer for every kid,” said McClarty, who is currently chief assessment officer at Questar.

She recommends that parents and teachers evaluate a child’s social, emotional and intellectual readiness using a tool known as the Iowa Acceleration Scale.

Teacher and author Jessica Lahey wrote about some of the developmental concerns about accelerating students based on intellect that become more pronounced in middle school. She wrote in The New York Times:

And that whole child, a child who skipped happily along through elementary school, becomes profoundly and heartbreakingly vulnerable in adolescence.

Schools, too, would have to develop a transparent process for determining which kids can skip ahead, including offering regular pre-testing.

“This would require a shift in how we do assessments,” Matthews said.

A clear and fair method of selecting students would be necessary to ensure access for all qualified kids, not merely those with ambitious and well-informed parents who insist on it. “Schools would have to be careful not to miss people who would benefit from acceleration,” Matthews added. For example, in one Florida county gifted and talented education program, selecting students based on teacher and parent referrals resulted in under representation of African American and Latino students compared to the student population. Introducing a universal screening program (which is no longer being used) doubled the number of gifted students who are African American and Latino.

And, if two out of seven children suddenly bumped up a grade, schools and colleges would have to react to some probable unintended consequences. Universities would need to offer more emotional support, guidance and supervision to incoming freshman who might not be legal adults, Matthews explained. Schools would also need to figure out how to share the cost savings that would result from educating a child in 11 years, say, rather than 12.

These adjustments are worth the effort, Matthews believes. Parents and educators need to consider the largely hidden costs of holding overqualified kids in classes that are beneath them, including wasted time, abundant boredom and diminished enthusiasm for learning. And for young people who hope to enter careers that require years of undergraduate and graduate school education, grade skipping early in life can expedite their entry into the professional world.

“It’s a social capital issue,” Matthews said. “What are we missing as a society by not taking advantage of the talents in our population?”

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  • JAH

    I would love to see data on the birthdays of children who are grade-skipped. My guess is that, in general, they are older for the grade level in the first place. Ideally, we’d have a system where children begin kindergarten when they turn five on a year-round school calendar. A cyclical curriculum or Montessori approach would help facilitate this.

    • Natalie F

      My daughter was the youngest in her original year (October birthday) and then skipped a grade from 4th to 6th. She is now a 10 year old in the 6th grade classroom. It was the best thing for her – she is still at the top of the class, but now she has to work for it, and her enthusiasm for learning came back in full force. I do worry about her social adjustment as a 12 year old high school freshman, but we will cross that bridge when we get there 🙂

      • Jay

        Natalie – You should consider looking into the University of Washington’s programs for talented youth!

      • megan

        Just to share my experience, I started high school at 12 after skipping two grades. Mentally, it was great. I felt I was challenged enough to not be bored in most classes but I won’t sugar coat it – socially, it was very very rough. There’s developmental milestones you start to fall behind on just due to the age gap (my classmates were 2-3 years older) and my parents made it more difficult to socially connect when I wanted to start going out with friends, learn to drive or start dating like the other kids in my grade since they weren’t comfortable with me being so young. My only advice is to think about these things now before you reach that point with your daughter and have a plan. I had enough credits by 14 to graduate high school and my parents were pushing me to reach my fullest potential by finding colleges that could take someone as young as I was. Academically, yes it was too simple in high school for me but the social side isn’t something that can be ‘skipped’. I ended up fighting against my parents as I felt no connection with those around me and visiting colleges at 14 only made the obvious social gap with my peers feel worse. I wanted to have some fun and enjoy hanging with friends in my grade. Eventually I won my argument and was allowed to stay to finish high school at 16. Those last two years in high school truly were my favorites – I made some life long friends and I personally feel my college years were that much better by being just that little bit older. Still was the official designated driver for my buds after walking the stage at 20, but that didn’t matter by that point.

        Fast forward, I have a daughter now who just turned one and having the experiences I went through will help me in determining what will work best for her. Academic levels are only a small part of who your child is. Yes, listen to teacher feedback but please, pay attention to all aspects of her growth. Let her enjoy being a kid – that time truly passes by too quickly. Just my two cents.

  • Handle

    I have long believed that assigning students to classes by chronological age is a misguided “factory-based” concept. Schools would better serve students if they assigned classes according to mastery. This would allow students with similar skill levels to work more efficiently. I am also a proponent of homogeneous grouping, especially for talented students. I have included a link to a blog from a couple of years ago.
    http://www.handleassociates.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=286&action=edit

  • Louise Field

    Both my sons “skipped” grades when they were quite young: the eldest was actually removed from his class and put in a higher grade which created a huge struggle behaviour wise at the time. My younger son just skipped a grade – we made the decision based on our experience from the older one(they are nine years apart). Both have eventually grown up to be very well-rounded young men, high academic achievers, excelling in sport and music as well. The very best decision we made for both of them. The eldest graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering and is now a sucessful project manager – the youngest is at the beginning of his own degree in Engineering – specialisation yet to be decided.

  • The Iowa Acceleration Scale mentioned in this article is the best tool for determining whether or not whole grade acceleration makes sense. So many factors are included in that toolkit – ability level certainly being an important one – but also social factors, like if the student has an older sibling in the target grade for acceleration. I would encourage any parent of a gifted child who is bored in class to seek out the acceleration option (the http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/ has more detailed information) and to keep in mind what our schools have always tried to implement in terms of special needs populations: to provide the least restrictive environment. Let the children who are ready to move ahead do so and stop wasting this talent on worksheets and busy work.

  • mikesoul

    I was skipped from kindergarten to first grade back in the 1960s, and I can say that it was the worst possible thing that could have been done to me. I was academically fine, but emotionally not mature enough to deal with being with older kids, especially when puberty hit. I ended up graduating 15th in my high school class, so I did all right academically, but my reaction to that is, so what? In my view, grade skipping accomplished nothing and it made my developmental years worse. If I could go back in time, I would have prevented my parents from being coaxed (against their own better judgment, I might add) by the grade school principal into skipping me. When I read these statistics that say that most skipped students benefit from it, my reaction is, great for them. For me, not so much.

  • Raymond Frederick givler

    The New York Times author has the typical school myopia. They ONLY see the middle or high school experience, not how much better of the kid is in college and graduate school, nor that fact that the vast majority (80+) of grade skipped kids, in adulthood, say they would do it again or be even further accelerated. That’s why you should decide based on research, not one teacher’s anecdotal experience who happens to have publishing contacts.

  • kryten8

    I’m so frustrated that you frame teacher objections in the way you do- I have never heard teachers object to skipping grades for anything other than social/emotional reasons, just like parents. As a person who was the youngest in her grade growing up, I think those are real concerns. Acting like we are unqualified to teach kids that skip grades is just plain wrong and needlessly antagonizing toward what I’d imagine would be a core audience for this story.

    • erin

      Actually, I heard EXACTLY those concerns from my son’s first grade teacher, who who highly offended to find out he was technically 2 months “too young” for her class. She was Very Concerned that he would learn to drive later than all his classmates and so on and that His Life Would Be Ruined. Everyone else has been 100% supportive, including his other teacher that year and the school psych who was very familiar with the research on highly gifted kids.

      • kryten8

        You misread my comment- I said that parents and teachers tend to share social-emotional concerns, not that teachers feel unqualified.

        As a young kid for my grade, it did cause some social/emotional problems as I went through school that I’d worry about as a parent considering grade-skipping.

    • Whether prepared or not, the teachers and admins at our school were anti-skipping.

      My daughter went to private Kindergarten for a half year because the Principal of the school would not agree to take her at her young age of 4 – even though she had taken tests to show she was ready. She turned 5 in January, and we switched her to that public school mid-year, when the state requires them to accept any child 5 or older.

      Then the teacher objected to a “younger kid” being put in their Kindergarten class. Then, in 1st grade, the teacher basically was unaware of her age, and we haven’t noticed any problems yet, through 5th grade. She is a top student in her class, and is lucky to also be relatively big.

      Basically, when the teacher or principal knew her age first, and her ability second, they rejected the advancement. When they knew the ability first, and age second, they could not have cared less.

  • Robin Witkin

    As a pediatrician and parent I fully agree with the article. My son is currently a 17 year old freshman at The Johns Hopkins University and is excelling academically and socially. He skipped kindergarten and has done extremely well throughout his school career. He went to the center for the highly gifted and talented in 4th and 5th grade and was accelerated even more at that time. His only difficulty was that at the age of 15 he was ready for multivariable calculus and differential equations and had to fight to take them at that age at the local community college. He now is studying applied mathematics and still enjoys learning. Every child deserves to learn at a pace that is appropriate for them

    • As a parent with a Senior at JHU (!) who was whole grade skipped and subject accelerated in grade school (and who also started at JHU at the age of 17) I fully embrace the benefits of acceleration. Many students do “run out of curriculum” – especially, it seems, in mathematics – and that can be a challenge – (we switched to a private school when he was in 10th grade) but you can never let a worry about future limitations stand in the way of an appropriately paced education. Good luck to your Bluejay! Hopkins is a wonderful environment for academically gifted students.

      • Robin Witkin

        Thank you. Every year I have worried that he would hit a roadblock but has not yet. He is having a great time at Hopkins academically and socially so it was definitely the perfect fit for him. Glad to know your son has done well
        Go Hop

  • Hillary Clintub

    My own experience says NO. I was skipped two grades in math in the seventh grade but the older kids resented my presence. Their active resentment caused me such stress that I actually regressed and was sent back to my regular grade when I changed schools. It left me in a math limbo for years after that and I didn’t get back into math for years after I had already graduated from college. Better the kids just be placed in an advanced curriculum with other advanced students of their own age.

  • Academically children may be gifted but does the child have the same maturity? In primary, six months to a year seems like a huge time and do judgement should be based not just on academics. The flip side is if you become more mature than your age, you might miss out.

  • Princess Mom

    As a college counselor, I’ve found there is a disconnect between K12 and colleges in terms of acceleration. On the one hand, one would assume that the age of the college student wouldn’t matter–any enrolled student can take any class he or she qualifies for. However, for students who have been radically accelerated, finding a college can be quite difficult. Placing a 16 year old senior is not difficult, but I’ve worked with students who were 15 and even 14 at graduation. Only specialized early college programs will allow a student under the age of 16 to live in the dorms and radically accelerated girls have a much more difficult time getting accepted at college than boys do. No matter how emotionally mature she is, what school would want to put a 15 year old girl down the hall from some 19 year old guys?

  • ks430

    Our 6 year old is a first grader at a Title I elementary school. She’s a voracious reader at middle school level, is easily doing 3rd grade writing/language arts, and is mid-2nd grade in mathematics. We pay for a computer enrichment program in both math and language arts, and we provide her with science and history learning opportunities on our own. This school year has been a constant struggle, as she complains on a daily basis that she already knows most of the material and the pace of instruction is too slow. This is a kid reading C.S. Lewis while she has classmates who still can’t read simple sight words! Her teacher is apologetic but the school board requires her to teach specific curriculum at a specific pace. If our child wants a more challenging math worksheet, for example, she has to finish the normal one and then ask for a more difficult one, making her a target for classmates who mock her for being “too smart”.

    Socially, she naturally gravitates towards kids 1-3 years older – in before/after care, Girl Scouts, and sports. She says it’s because she feels more comfortable with them. She seems like an ideal candidate for a grade skip, especially early in her elementary education before she’s really settled in with a peer group.

    When we advocated for her to go to a 2nd grade classroom for math only, we were told that they can’t do that because if she’s a year ahead in a subject when she reaches 5th grade there will be no curricular options for her without transporting her to the middle school. OK, so how about a grade skip? Nope, our school district doesn’t do grade skipping AT ALL. The pessimist in me thinks it’s because they know kids like our daughter will score highly on standardized tests, and if they move those students to a higher grade where they’re more appropriately challenged in the classroom, their test scores might not be so high.

  • pj3333

    I have a 17 year old college freshman and no additional “support” has been necessary beyond signing a couple extra forms giving permission to treat at the health center on campus and permission to view her accounts (at the college’s insistence, we don’t ever look at her academic or financial accounts). We had one instance where she was unable to sign an NCAA form for athletics but simply emailed images back and forth within the hour. Obviously, things would be more difficult for a child who skipped multiple grades and was attending a residential campus, but we have found no drawbacks whatsoever to skipping a single grade despite nearly a decade of naysayers. I have a 15 year old who was not emotionally ready to accelerate a full grade so is accelerated in math only. He will soon be taking college level math. You have to do what’s best for each child.

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  • Alex

    This is a great discussion which I rarely hear mentioned when talking about educating talented and gifted students.

    I was transitioned into the grade above me over the course of my second grade year, and I consider it to be the best decision my parents and I ever made about my education. I went to a rural, poor school in Iowa and I was routinely bored in class, with only a few opportunities offered for supplemental programs. My parents couldn’t have afforded to send me to a private school, but they gave me this choice after it was offered by my teachers. With some hesitation, I learned years later, because they thought my 2.5 year older brother would resent the implication that he wasn’t as smart as me (he was).

    While there were a few notable teachers who disagreed with skipping (when I graduated after my junior year my principal refused to designate me salutatorian because it “wouldn’t be fair” to the students who did four years of high school), over the course of my K-2.5,3.5-11 education, my teachers supported me immensely. From letting me sit in the hallway with my book during “audio book listening time” because I could read faster, letting me take a 7th grade math book and work on my own in 6th grade, allowing me to do an independent study English class so I could graduate high school in three years, to my guidance counselor giving me his own sponsored college scholarship, my teachers really supported me however they could.

    I remember my parents talking to me as a first grader about how I wouldn’t be able to drive at the same time as my friends, but the only instance I’ve resented my age is when I started graduate school at 20 and couldn’t socialize at the bar with my colleagues. Now, at age 25 I’m getting ready to graduate with a PhD in materials science and engineering, and my age is a startling fact to most. I’ve always been mature, and my school really had no other options to keep me engaged in class material I thought was too simple. Every students’ situation is different, but I think this is an underutilized option for many.

  • Khristi A. Tomlinson

    My daughter was about the youngest in her class and skipped from 4th grade to 5th grade in the middle of the school year, after Christmas. She was very mature and thrived in her new grade. Skipping her was the best decision we ever made for her and made her like school again instead of begging me to home school her. She’s now 14 and a sophomore in high school, taking all the hardest classes and is kind of bored, but doesn’t want to go to college early. We have listened to what she wanted to do about her education since she was very young and it couldn’t have worked out better for her.

  • Carolyn Miller

    I am an adult who skipped kindergarten. Academically, I did fine. My problems came in the 5th & 6th grade when the other kids would say things like “Don’t talk in front of her. She’s a baby.” I had my close friends, but this still nearly killed me. I am now 68 years old and it still hurts to talk about it. By the time I was in the 7th & 8th grade, everything was fine, as was high school. I do not recommend that any child be put through what I went through in 5th & 6th grade.

    Since I was the youngest in my class, my parents allowed me to do things in high school when my classmates did. I thought this was great. Parents, please keep this in mind when having your child skip a grade that your child may be fine with it, but other kids can be awfully mean.

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  • Craig

    As a young boy, I skipped kindergarten with mixed results. I spent the next 16 years as always the youngest in my class and also close to the smallest, but on the playground, I was the fastest. Academically, I could have skipped 2 or 3 grades as lessons came easy, I often blew the scale on tests, even in Engineering school where I would get 100% on a test that the average score was 37%, Because I was BORED, I often acted up in class and one well intentioned teacher, thought I should be held back a grade due to behavoir. Socially, I was quite ackward particularily around girls who were always older and usually taller. I had bad hair, crooked teeth and eye glasses that broke often. However, sportwise, I was fairly awesome, but as my abilities increased each year, I often lamented that I never got to compete with boys my own age, despite breaking a sprint record at one track meet and coming home with blue ribbons and gold metals at other events. Yes, I made it thru grad school and did fine career wise but, I never really got a proper chance on the sport fields. I have never seen these discussions address the impact on sport competiveness where age plays a major role. Why not ?

  • 13thGenPatriot

    I didn’t skip kindergarten, but I started a year early. I went through my entire school experience as the youngest in my class. I had friends, but no girlfriend. I didn’t get my license to drive until the second half of my junior year. My peer group had all gotten their licenses when they were sophmores. I started college at age 17. I had been fine academically all through this, but emotionally, I was a year to a year and a half behind my “peer” cohort. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t really connected to anyone. Over the years, I reflect on the fact that I am not in contact with anyone from high school or even college. I have a very limited circle of friends, with most actually being acquaintances. i did marry (she is a saint) and we have 3 children…but friends? Not so much. I got an associates degree and have 138 credit hours, but do not have the right mix for a bachelors degree. I have military training and then more training from the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, the FAA Academy. I work on radars, automation systems, and data communications systems. I’ve done alright, but I wonder how it would have been if my early education had been with a same age cohort. Physically and intellectually, I matured early. I think that this wasn’t helpful, emotionally.

  • D Byers

    My daughter chose to put herself back after being skipped a grade! Unknown to me, her school graduated her from sixth grade at the end of fifth grade. Academically it was no surprise because in the first grade she was given an achievement test for grade 5-6 and scored pretty much 99% across the board. It took a lot of academic stimulation to keep her interested. Then we moved. The first day at the new house in a new town she met some other soon to be 7th graders. She told me there was no way she was socially or physically ready for 7th grade! She barely made the age cut-off for 6th grade so would have been youngest in 6th grade and 2-3 years behind a lot of the 7th grade. After considerable discussion we went to the grade school (6th grade was the last grade there) and SHE talked to the principal and explained why she did not want to go to 7th grade. He/we allowed her that choice. Her teachers knew nothing of this. When her homeroom teacher tried to look at her records she was told they weren’t available yet. Several weeks into the school year I received a phone call from that teacher. Her observation was that my daughter was extremely gifted and needed more challenging classwork. In the end, the school put three students together who worked on advanced math with another teacher and all excelled. They were also given higher standards and expectations for written work. We were very fortunate to find a school that promoted excellence by “grouping” and creating special classes as needed. My daughter never regretted that decision. I share this only because of the need to emphasize that each child is different and their feelings in the matter must be considered.

  • Meghan Thoreau

    From the side of the gifted student skipping a grade may make sense, if they are socially developed to adjust. However, the research should also include how this classroom brain drain of moving the brightest kids up a grade on a more regular bases, a rate mentioned, two out of seven children, would change the classroom dynamics. The more advanced students would not be their to help their peers advances together. The individual vs the social impact of skipping a grade.

  • Courtney Schumacher

    Unlike many here, I didn’t SKIP kindergarten, but I started a year early, because I had started reading when I was 2. City schools wouldn’t let young kids in, so I went to private school. then I returned to city school at 5. Having records that I’d done kindergarten already, they put me in 1st grade. Then I skipped 3rd. During 5th, my city was giving kids intelligence tests, and I aced mine, so they recommended to my parents that I be put in their MAP class (Major Achievers Program), which they did, but held me back a year so I could be with kids closer to my own age.

  • Josie Patalon

    I was a student who probably would have benefited from advancing a grade in school. My family considered it for me because I tested well and considered by most to be mature beyond my age. We decided not to pursue it because I was already having problems with being bullied, primarily about intelligence. “Why don’t you just go to college already”. We were concerned that moving up a grade would make matters worse. Whether I skipped a grade or not left me on the outside of my peers, the emotional toll tucked me away into a shell that took years to re-emerge from. It wasn’t until high school that I had the opportunity to join the MMSTC an advanced program, I was the only student not in an advanced math course to be accepted. Intellectually, yes I think I did suffer from not being moved forward; but socially/emotionally it was damned if you do damned if you don’t. Either way my attention was pulled away from school to just survival. Instead of school work being my challenge, it became my sanctuary.

Author

Linda Flanagan

Linda Flanagan is a freelance writer, researcher, and editor. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Wall St. Journal, Newsweek, Running Times, and Mind/Shift, and she blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. Linda writes about education, culture, athletics, youth sports, mental health, politics, college admissions, and other curiosities. She also reviews books and conducts interviews.

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