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.”