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A Child Ahead of Her Class?


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Q: A concerned parent writes
"My child is in third grade. We moved recently, so she is in a new school. Every day, she comes home complaining that the work is too easy and that she already has been taught what they are learning. What do I do as a parent? Is there a test I can request to see if she needs to be moved up a grade?"


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A.
A teacher educator from Pennsylvania replies
"There are a few things to bear in mind in a situation like this. First of all, a student's records should follow the student to a new school. Those records will be a good indication to the counselors and other administrators at the new school when determining where to appropriately place the child. If, in spite of their best efforts, the child still claims to be in a class where the work is beneath her ability, the parent should start out by meeting with the child's teacher. In the discussion, the parents would request that the problem be investigated further, with no reflection on the teacher's work. That would involve the parent(s) in a follow-up meeting with the school's guidance counselor, and maybe even with the principal, to decide what further action should be taken.

" 'Further action' would almost certainly need to be a thorough evaluation of the student's knowledge and ability. If the student is perceived as bright, the evaluation might well indicate that the student should be treated as 'gifted student,' which would trigger a special education need under IDEA, involving an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with all that that implies.

"If, on the other hand, the evaluation shows that the student, while not gifted, is nonetheless way ahead of his or her classmates, a decision might well be made to move the student up a grade. That would not be unusual under the circumstances in which, for example, a student has moved from a school district that was well-managed and set high standards to a school where learning expectations are not as high."

A.
An education technology specialist from Pennsylvania says
"Having a child do so well in school is a good thing. The next goal is to make sure she's getting what she needs to have a meaningful education.

"First, let me say that every school district has its own set of unique rules regarding acceleration. It would help you to find out what they are. The best person to talk to would be the director of education or the assistant superintendent. Just ask what the current policy is -- so you know what you're working toward or against.

"This also would be a good time to ask for a copy of the current curriculum for any subject areas in which your child is claiming to be bored. Once you have the curriculum, go through it to see what areas your child already has covered. (You might need to ask your child some questions.) That will help you determine what to ask for.

"If your child is just a marking period ahead, there probably is little you can do, except help her deal with the boredom. You might ask the teacher to provide some extra enrichment activities or to allow the child to work in an area in which she is not advanced during that time.

"If you child has covered just about everything in a specific subject area, you could ask for 'subject specific grade level acceleration' -- moving the child to the 4th grade for math, for example. The school might tell you that's impossible, but it isn't. It simply means marching Suzy down the hall to the 4th grade classroom for math, or having her 3rd grade teacher provide her with 4th grade work and grading it as such.

"If you find that your child is advanced at least three quarters of the year in all subject areas, then you need to think about asking for full grade acceleration. Many schools will fight you on that. They say it creates social adjustment problems, dooms the child to failure, and so on. None of that holds any weight in the research. So, don't listen to it. Yes, for the first month or two the child might struggle to fit in and make new friends, but after that she'll just be a young 4th grader. She'll probably still excel. Whole grade level acceleration is not for everyone, but if your child is well adjusted and bored with everything in school, it could be her salvation. If you look at the report, "A Nation Deceived," you'll find that schools are not familiar with the research on acceleration. Many cling to

  • the philosophy that children must be kept with their age peers.
  • the belief that acceleration 'hurries' children out of childhood.
  • the concern that acceleration could hurt students socially.
  • political concerns about 'equality' for all.
  • the concern that other students will be offended if one student is accelerated.
The report shows that none of those concerns is supported by research. You can review the report for yourself at http://nationdeceived.org.

"You also could take your child out of public schools and look at the curriculum at private and parochial schools. If you can do it, you also have the option to home school. Sometimes home schooling for a year or two solves the problem. Say, your daughter currently is in 3rd grade; in home schooling she might be able to complete what she didn't cover for 3rd grade, and then complete the 4th and 5th grade work. Once the work is documented and she's given credit by the district as a home-schooled 5th grader, she should be placed in 6th grade when she reenters the district, regardless of her chronological age. Even if you home school for just half a year and covered all the 4th grade curriculum, she would enter school as a 5th grader the following year. At that point, age is unimportant; all they look at is proof of completion.

"If you're simply going to ask for acceleration in a public school, most will require some testing -- and the requirements vary from state to state -- so be sure to do your homework and find out specifically what your state wants. At minimum, they probably want a grade level test in the various subject areas. Make sure they go through the curriculum and pick the highlights to test on or that they use the end-of-year final. A student should have to score only a minimum passing grade or a bit higher to move up. Some districts have tried to force students to take individual chapter tests and required that they score 100 percent on each. If you're looking at whole grade acceleration, there's a good chance the school will want some psychological testing as well. That is a good thing and will help support your child as she moves to another grade.

"The most important thing to remember is that you are your child's advocate. If you don't do anything, most likely no one else will. Your job is to make sure she has a meaningful education. If that currently is not the case, you'll need to do whatever it takes to make sure her school is meeting her educational needs."

A.
An veteran teacher of gifted students from Florida responds

"I'd advise you to first consult with your daughter's classroom teacher to see if she really does know the material already. Some students think they do, or say they do, when it's not really the case. (You also might have your daughter tested with the Iowa Acceleration Scales.) If your daughter does turn out to be significantly ahead of her class, but the classroom teacher can't provide the enrichment opportunities she needs, and no gifted program is available, you might need to advocate yourself for the appropriate enrichment programs.

"Some states are sadly neglecting their brightest children under the financial burden of NCLB. Your daughter apparently has had educational opportunities not afforded the students in her current school. If you can find an alternative placement in a different school, or get her current school to provide enrichment opportunities, those options would be better than grade skipping. If you have her moved up a grade now, you might regret it later.

"Acceleration is a bit of a sore subject with me, because I know a lot about it first hand. Currently, there's a push to promote grade skipping as the remedy for all that ails the gifted child. In most cases, grade skipping is not a cure-all -- and it can cause deeper problems than it set out to solve.

"Nick Colangelo and his A Nation Deceived report are getting a lot of attention in gifted-education circles right now. The report praises all kinds of acceleration, including dual enrollment in college classes, AP classes, partial acceleration in areas of strength, and the like, with which I agree. However, the press attention and his speeches focus heavily on grade skipping. I'm concerned because few proponents seem to see the deeper implications of that.

"Gifted children need to be around their intellectual peers, as well as their age peers. Simply placing them with older students is not the best answer. The social drawbacks are many, and I won't cite them now, but as a teacher of the gifted for thirteen years, I must say that I never have seen a situation in which the child was clearly better off after grade skipping. In most cases, in fact, students not only lost their chance to be leaders among their age peers, they constantly battled appearing immature compared to their older classmates.

"Current gifted programs usually address the social/emotional needs of gifted students, which would not be true in most grade-skipping situations. If a child is so advanced that his or her intellectual needs are several years ahead of peers -- a 'Doogie Howser' child -- it might be unavoidable to grade skip. But the typical, slightly advanced student does not need to be skipped, just enriched. I have spoken with many adults who skipped grades, and most regret it. I also was grade skipped, and it was an ugly experience. I survived, and went on to achieve higher degrees, but I believe I would have gone on to higher degrees without the emotional drawbacks if I had been given appropriate opportunities with my age peers."


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Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

01/06/2006