As many of my readers may know, my younger brother skipped many grades. He started by skipping 4th grade. He continued on to skip 7th – 12th grade. Okay, so many it isn’t even grade skipping at that point. Throughout my life, I’ve met and worked with many students who either (1) skipped one or more grades or (2) seriously considered grade skipping but were unable to accomplish this within their school district. Grade skipping isn’t for everyone. The social-emotional stigmas alone are enough to prevent many parents, students and educators from standardizing this practice. However, Johns Hopkins University recently found that 2 in 7 students may be ready for higher grade curriculum.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied the data from five different assessment methods and I can’t say that I’m all that surprised at their findings. Over the past few years, I’ve spent dozens of hours scouring the data from the NWEA MAP Test (a test that we utilize for placement purposes). This was one of five tests that Johns Hopkins studied as well. The NWEA MAP test is an adaptive assessment. All students take the same test. The test starts at a different level of difficulty based on the student’s grade level. As students answer questions correctly, the questions become more difficult. As they answer questions incorrectly, the test starts to figure out “where the child stops knowing things.” As such, student scores can be compared across grade levels. For example, if a fifth grade student scores 205 on the NWEA MAP Math test during the Fall term and then earns the same score of 205 during the Spring term, they are not demonstrating any growth.
Moreover, even a student testing at the ~70th percentile for their grade level, is testing about average for the grade level above them! For example, a fifth grader testing at the 67th percentile earns a score of 218 on the Math MAP (Fall Term). A sixth grader testing at the 50th percentile (Fall Term) earns the same score.
Similarly, a student testing at the ~80th percentile for their grade level, is testing about average for TWO grade levels above them. For example, a fifth grader testing at the 80th percentile earns a score of 223 on the MAP Math(Fall Term). A seventh grader testing at the 50th percentile earns a similar score of 223.
Shockingly, the average 3rd grade student earns a score of 203 on the MAP Math during the Spring Term. The following fall, (fourth grade) this same student earns a score of 202. By the end of fourth grade, this student (assuming they are still testing at the 50th percentile) earns a score of 213. Once again, the student loses achievement over the summer and earns a score of 211 in the Fall of fifth grade. Students only gain ~10 points throughout the year on the NWEA MAP test. they lose 2 – 3 points each summer.
Now, let’s take a look at a child testing at the 95th percentile. They’re actually testing at the average of a student 2 – 6 years above grade level. A fifth grade student testing at the 95th percentile in math earns a score of 236. This is the same score an eleventh grade student testing at the 56th percentile earns!
So, what does all of this mean?
In the United States, grade skipping is typically frowned upon. The overwhelming argument against grade skipping concerns social/emotional issues rather than academic issues. Furthermore, it is likely that school districts are reluctant to allow grade skipping because they fear it will cause an ‘epidemic’ of parent requests to grade-skip their children. Moreover,’ grade skipping is not for everyone.
For my younger brother, grade skipping was the best option for him(at the time). Most of the parties involved were concerned about the social/emotional aspects. For him, this was almost a non-issue. I considered grade-skipping too. For me, it wasn’t the best option. Why? For one, I had friends in my grade. I didn’t want to leave them. I didn’t want to be the ‘weird’ kid. I’m glad I didn’t because I had a difficult time in fifth grade as it was. I was small. I hit puberty late. I didn’t catch on to the requirements of ‘tween social life’ until much later.
Social/Emotional concerns are not the only concerns.
When students grade skip, I tend to see holes in their learning. Even if a school administers an end-of-year exam for each subject (which they typically don’t), a student can earn a passing grade whilst still missing one or two key concepts. At first glance, this doesn’t seem detrimental. They still earned a high score. However, this problem compounds over time. Only 2 or 3 questions required multiplying with decimals. The students answered them all incorrectly. They still earned an “A” on the exam. However, when they need to use decimals in higher level math, they will also get these problems wrong. They’ll continue to earn passing grades until the problem compounds. It may take years to recognize that this student is missing this one key concept. The student may begin to struggle in math. They may begin to dislike math, a subject that was once their favorite subject. They’re completely capable. However, it is very difficult to identify that one key missing concept as time goes on.
Furthermore, a child who skips a grade may miss more topical courses such as history, electives, science topics, etc. Again, this is not detrimental in the lower grades because these topics will likely be repeated later in their education.
Despite these concerns, grade skipping can be tremendously beneficial.
As Johns Hopkins established, more students ARE capable of higher level course work. However, that doesn’t mean that grade-skipping is suddenly going to become easier or more standardized. Schools need to create a more transparent process for grade skipping. This means that they need to develop stronger assessment methods. Consequently, Universities will need to add additional resources to manage a younger population.
We need more research. A good, stable program that enables grade skipping needs research-backed standards if it is going to work. The University of Iowa, Belin-Blank Center, studies acceleration — most commonly achieved in the form of grade skipping. If you are on a school board, or are interested in approaching your school board, you should review the guidelines for developing academic acceleration policies which “offers recommendations for developing or revising an acceleration policy.”
Grade skipping benefits both the schools and the students.
Schools would benefit financially. On average, it costs us about $10,000 per pupil per year to educate our children in the public school system. For each year that a student ‘skips,’ we would actually save a tremendous amount of money!
Students would benefit academically. Lindsay Flanagan writes, “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(2017). ”
Although grade skipping has fallen out of favor, I think that it can make a comeback. For now, however, you might want to consider other options. Fewer than 1% of students in the United States are permitted to skip a grade.
Read More: An Interview with Danielle Voit on Grade Skipping.