Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Should You Have Your Child Skip Grades?

In general I think having kids skip grades is a terrible idea. I'd wanted to write this post for a while, at least the past year, if not longer, and I had intended to call it my anti skipping manifesto. However, over time I've mellowed out a bit and do think there is a time and place for skipping, even if it is not ideal.

Why am I so against skipping grades, one might ask? To be honest, mostly from personal experience.

I skipped grades. And not just one, but 2 or 3 depending on what you consider skipping. And after what I went through, I think having kids skip grades is very problematic.

Lets first talk about why people have their kids skip grades.

The most common reason for someone to have their child skip a grade in school is to have them be challenged academically and learn on a level more appropriate for them. This is something parents often do when their child is gifted. There are other reasons that people might have their children skip grades, but they are more infrequent and I'll get to them later.

I am the kid who skipped grades because of being gifted. And from my experience, I will tell you that it is a terrible idea.

People think that someone being gifted means that they are very smart, and that is it. But being gifted is much more complicated than that. When I was in college I did some research on gifted kids and I found out some very surprising things.

Gifted kids often have what is called asynchronous development. That means that in some ways they are very advanced, in other ways average, and in other ways behind. Rather they develop many different things at many different rates. So for example, you can have a kid who reads really early but isn't ahead in math. Or you can have someone terrific at math but a slow reader. And then in non academic areas, a kid might be in a different developmental stage with physical maturity, emotional maturity, and social maturity. 

But something very common in gifted kids is being advanced academically but not being advanced in social maturity. Oftentimes gifted kids have a really hard time in the friends arena. They can be bullied a lot because of their differentness.

And then you have the factor that the rates of depression, suicide are quite high among gifted kids. And that gifted kids tend to have a high drop out rate.

This means that gifted kids are very much an at risk group and you need to do what you can to help them out and not hurt them.

From my experience, grade skipping can definitely hurt.

Let's first look at the reason for grade skipping- to get a kid learning on a level that matches their scholastic ability.

It doesn't work. Period.

When I was in third grade, my parents had me pushed ahead to fourth grade for math. The summer after fourth grade, we went on a trip abroad and my mother brought along some text books and told me I would be skipping fifth grade and go to sixth grade when I returned, which meant that I had to study that summer to catch up on the information I would be missing that was taught in fifth grade.

Then I was in sixth grade and guess what? It wasn't on my level academically. Because I had learned the fifth grade information during the summer and sixth grade was back to being quite easy for me scholastically. I was in all the highest level classes in sixth grade- whenever our class was divided into different groups I was in the highest grouping. Then seventh and eighth grade were the same as sixth- easy for me, not challenging at all.

In ninth grade I was partially homeschooled. I was in a religious school where religious subjects were taught in the morning, so I went to school for that, and then I came home and I was homeschooled for the rest of the subjects. That year I was taught an intense amount of information, learning two years of school or more within that one year. This is in addition to the half day at my religious school. Then in tenth grade I was back in school full time (we had classes 8:30-4:30 or 5:20 depending on the day) being in the advanced class for many subjects and I joined the 11th graders for math and physics. While I was doing that I also was enrolled in an online charter school and I was learning 4 subjects per semester there.

By the time eleventh grade rolled around there really was no need to be in high school anymore- the only credit I still needed to graduate was one American history credit. So I was enrolled again in an online charter school to earn my American history credit as well as 3 other subjects per semester, and I was in college full time learning 4 subjects per semester through a program that high schoolers with good enough grades/SAT/ACT scores could earn both college and high school credits for what they learn.

Essentially I was 15 when I started college. 16 when I officially graduated high school. And I graduated with twice as many credits as needed for high school.

And I got good grades in college. All but one subject (Calculus 2) were easy for me, with me getting among the higher scores in the class.

Skipping to "get me to a class at my academic level"? It didn't work. I skipped 3 grades essentially and it still didn't make things "challenging" as my mother was attempting to do.

All that happens when you have a kid skip a grade is they take a month or two to catch up on the information from the previous grade they missed, and they're back in the situation of school being too easy for them, and class is still not on their level scholastically, and you have your kid skip again and again and again, each time just giving a challenge for a tiny little bit and then you're back to the same old, same old.

So it doesn't even work for the purpose for which it is intended. 

But skipping does more than just not work. Its not a neutral. Overall, in my opinion, it is a negative.

Remember how I mentioned that gifted kids generally have asynchronous development? In many ways, the way this is most prominent is socially and emotionally. A kid often may be old enough to understand advanced concepts and learn complex subjects while still lacking in the emotional and social maturity arena.

I was that kid. Super bright. Great academically. Thriving in all the subjects. But I sucked at the social thing. I had very few friends, if any, depending. I didn't know that certain things I did would actually make me be mocked, I didn't pick up on different social nuances. Already in third grade I was being bullied because of being different, and I didn't help matters by showing off my good grades. I hadn't developed emotionally and socially enough to realize that showing off does not make friends, and all it does is cause people to resent you. So third grade was challenging socially. Fourth grade was as well. 

Then I was taken out of that class where I was already behind socially, pushed ahead a year, and put in a class with kids probably about two years ahead of where I was socially. Socially awkward kid who doesn't pick up social cues suddenly joins a class with girls much older and more mature, and suddenly this newcomer, this "little kid" is getting the top grades in the class- what do you think happened then? The bullying intensifies. Because not only is she socially awkward to begin with and doesn't "get" things socially, she also has the "nerve" to be "better" than everyone else, something she doesn't "deserve" since she is so little.

In sixth grade I had kids that would kick me if I got close to them, to the extent that the teacher divided the room and I was only to be on one half of the room while the "kicker" got the other half of the room. I was bullied verbally, mocked, name called, and then when that happened I'd cry and then be called a baby for crying. I didn't know enough to know that crying in public would only make bullying worse.

Sixth grade was one of the worst years of my life, to be honest.

Ok, things got better for me after that socially, but still never good. There still was always this resentment from my classmates because I was the top of the class while being a year younger than everyone.

Then when I was in college at 15 I ended up being friends with people that were a bunch of years older than I was, and I was feeling already like an adult.

Then the next year I was in a religious post high school program where I was told to lie about how old I was, because the people there were 3-5 years older than I was. And the year after that I lived on my own, working, self supporting (other than health insurance), while in another religious post high school program.

So then at 18 I thought I was a "real adult" and not just a real adult, but someone already a few years out of high school, so I thought it was a good idea for me to get married, and ended up marrying someone that was terrible for me and I had a terrible marriage and only managed to fully get out of it and get my divorce a few months ago at the age of 33.

What do these things have to do with skipping and why it was bad?

Well, first off, when you push ahead a kid who is smart academically but not socially smart, it makes things socially really bad. It increases the bullying. Gifted kids have really high rates of being bullied, and trust me, the more disparity in age there is between them and their peers the more resentment there is towards them and the worse the bullying.

School is generally miserable enough from a social aspect for gifted kids- why make it worse by skipping them? I'm sure that the high rate of depression, suicide, and being drop outs are correlated to the social aspect in school, so why not do whatever you can to help a kid succeed socially and not make it harder for them by skipping them? Especially since skipping doesn't actually achieve its stated goal.

Then there is the aspect of skipping having people enter the "real world" at a younger age, and think that they are ready for things already at a younger age, because their peers in college or post high school are all moving on to other more adult things, and of course they are just as much an adult as their peers, right? And when people try to tell them that they are not ready, like when people tried to tell me at 18 I was too young to get married (and honestly I was, and maybe if I'd waited I would have gone to therapy, dealt with my issues, at least enough to learn how to marry someone that I would be able to have a healthy relationship with) they probably won't listen, because they are "real adults" and know things for themselves.

Listen, I'm not an academic scholar. I think my story of skipping and how much, in my opinion, it ruined things for me, at least will give people something to think about and consider before deciding whether or not they should have their kids skip a grade.

Now, why am I not saying skipping is always bad? Well because sometimes it can work. But it really, really depends on the kid and why you want to skip them.

As opposed as I am to skipping, this year I had my oldest son, Lee, skip from seventh grade to ninth grade. But my reasons for skipping him had nothing to do with pushing him to be on a high level academically. In fact, he had been failing the year beforehand. I had him skip eighth grade simply because there was no eighth grade class in my area that was taught in English, and the reason that my son was failing school was because he didn't understand the local language, despite lots of assistance he got to learn the language, enough to be able to succeed in school. His previous school wanted to put him in a remedial class, again without a teacher who spoke any English, and I knew that that was not the right decision for my son.

I haven't actually updated here what happened this past year in school, but now that he finished the school year I wanted to update also how it went, and also why it went that way.

As I mentioned, the biggest issues with skipping grades have to do with maturity and asynchronous development. My son, Lee, though is pretty much non asynchronous... other than with his mastery of the local language. Socially he was doing fine before skipping, maybe finding some of his age mates immature, maturity wise he was fine or even advanced, and physically he is advanced for his age.

So having him be in a class with kids 1-1/2 years older than he was (and in his school 9th and 10th graders are in a lot of classes together, so at 13 he's in class with 15 and 16 year olds) wasn't really a problem from the social perspective because he fits in with his peer group there- he looks like them, is as tall as they are, shaves like they do, is a responsible mature high schooler...

And all I can say is he absolutely thrived. He made great friends. He learned a lot. Was self motivated ad even though he had to wake up at 5:30 and leave the house at 6:30 he missed only 3 days of school this entire year- one on a snow day, and one the day of my sister's wedding and one the day after. He studied on his own, kept track of his tests and assignments and when they were due, and in general had a really, really, really strong work ethic. And it paid off. We just got his final grades... and his worst grade was an 88. He got a few 100s and others were all mid 90s. He made some really close friends this year, has a good relationship with his teachers, and enjoys going to school every day. Having him skip eighth grade has probably been one of the best decisions I have made as a parent.

So is grade skipping always bad? No.

Do I think it usually is not a good idea? Yes.

When is skipping ok? When the goal isn't to challenge them academically, because it won't work. When the reason is more for practicality's sake or when skipping is the only way for them to get other benefits that higher grade would offer. When they are socially, emotionally, and ideally physically mature, in addition to being intellectually advanced and capable of higher levels of learning. 

When should you absolutely not have your child skip a grade? When they are already struggling emotionally, socially, or are immature. Skipping will just make their life even more difficult and increase all those issues which cannot be taken lightly and can have life long ramifications.

So then what do you do if your kid needs more challenges scholastically and is bored in class but skipping isn't a good idea for them? Give them supplemental work to do in class. Whatever assignment the class is doing, have them do a more challenging version of it. Not advancing to higher grade material, but deeper levels of it. For example if its social studies, let them learn the history of the law and the reasons behind the laws, for example, instead of just what the laws are. Etc... 

Or send them to after school activities that appeal to their special interests. Lee is a computer whiz and hopefully will be going to an advanced computer program for high school students (there were three stages in the acceptance process- he passed the first two and we're just waiting for the results of the third, but I'm hoping for the best). There are writing classes, science clubs, robotics classes, etc... They don't need to do this in school, they can get these things after their school day. 

Lastly consider a school for gifted kids. Gifted classes within a school are also options, but often the kids end up targets of bullying for being in such classes. However there are schools that are entirely for gifted kids and there there aren't these types of problems, and they can learn at a high level without the negative social ramifications.

In short, when people think of skipping, they generally gloss over the importance of school socially and the lifelong impact of such things. An education filled with lots of knowledge but constant bullying is much worse than one with a lower level of education but on par with the kid socially so they can have friends.

In fact, my daughter Rose is exceptionally bright, but I actually kept her back a year- not only did I not keep her at grade level, I put her a year behind, because I thought socially she would be able to benefit from it a lot, and so far so good. Scholastics kids can catch up on on their own, but the social aspects of school aren't something you can make up if they are problematic at school.

After writing this post I was searching for something on my blog and I found this post I wrote on the topic as well- a whole ten years ago- and it amused me that I already wrote on the topic, but I think the past ten years allowed me to learn more and understand more, and elucidate more on the topic than I was able to ten years ago.

What are your thoughts on skipping? Did you skip grades or did your kids or siblings? Do you think skipping was beneficial or detrimental?


  1. I don't usually respond, but I felt like I needed to here. I have a similar story to you in that I skipped and graduated high school by 16, with two years worth of college credits, and it sounds like a similar type of religious school. I honestly don't think it's affected my life so much one way or another, I did have some bullying in middle school, and it was hard, but I think those are hard years for lots of kids for lots of reasons, and I'm hesitant to blame the skipping. I'm not sure if I would make the same choice for my kids, but I also live in a different place than where I grew up with more religious school choices, so I have more of the other enrichment options that you mentioned mentioned than my parents had. I just don't think it's really affected my subsequent life choices very much, but I can see from your post that you feel very strongly otherwise.

  2. This is basically my mother's story, although she was skipped in the 1930s, Depression-era America. Same bullying, same brilliance at the stuff she was good at, but she was left hopelessly behind in math and spent much of her life thinking she was stupid. She wasn't. Her problem was compounded in that her dad had a job, luckily, but they moved every year.
    So when I came along, and was similarly intelligent, she fought hard against skipping. Was I bored in school? Yep. (And this was in the '70s/'80s so the options weren't available.) I was bullied for that, but at least I knew I was smart, and even in the subjects that were harder I was at grade level.
    We homeschooled our daughter, and that was the right choice for her. If we could have afforded a Montessori school, that would have been an excellent alternative. (I don't think we had them where I grew up, and they might have been too weird for my parents anyway.)
    Anyway, great post, and thanks for bringing back memories of my mom! I haven't thought about the school thing for years.

  3. my son got kicked out of public school four years ago into a special ed behavior program that is BARELY a school. He's been getting straight A's with ZERO effort and all of my begging for the school to challenge him has gotten me nowhere. I haven't insisted on skipping him---- I'm still hanging in there somehow. HE doesn't care how bored he is and how the boredom affects his behaviors. I'm the one who does. This fall for 9th grade we're trying something different. Math and science will be online through an online program. The rest of his subjects will be at his current program. Other parents who've done this online program have told me that even this won't be enough for him, though. So aside from homeschooling this kid which I don't have the strength to do....... *sigh*


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