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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Skip the smart kids: We're holding back (and boring) high achievers

I was very good at school, but also very bored. I wanted to skip a grade to catch up with my sister, but the district never skipped anyone -- except for my sister, who ended up two grades ahead of me. Still bitter. There was no tracking until high school and no "gifted" education. I read in class. A lot.

Grade skipping is very rare -- only 1 percent of students skip -- writes Patrick Carroll on the FEE site. Yet, by late elementary school, 15 to 45 percent of students are a year or more above grade level, estimates a 2016 Johns Hopkins report.

Acceleration seems to help bright students academically, compared to similar students who weren't skipped, he writes. A 2022 literature review found grade acceleration “has a positive impact on academic achievement and is not detrimental to psychosocial development.”

"Countless students are sitting in classrooms every day, bored to death, failing to reach their potential," writes Carroll. They deserve a chance to learn more.

“The U.S. likely wastes tens of billions of dollars each year in efforts to teach students content they already know,” the Johns Hopkins researchers write.
. . . “Millions of American K-12 students are performing above grade level and are not being appropriately challenged, putting their intellectual development and the country’s future prosperity at risk.”

Telling teachers to differentiate instruction for students at different levels isn't practical, the Hopkins researchers conclude. The range of achievement levels in the average classroom is too broad.

"Normalizing grade-skipping is a great first step" toward personalizing education, writes Carroll. Instead of expecting everyone to move through 13 years of schooling at the same pace, fast learners could finish high school at 16 and be off to college or internships or music school or computer boot camp or whatever. Maybe the slower and average-pace learners would prefer to leave at 16 to focus on their interests, talents and ambitions.

Parents refused to let her daughter join the gifted program at school, because they believe students should be educated together, the mother wrote to Slate advice columnist Nicole Chung, Now her daughter is miserable. It “backfired,” she writes. "Big time."

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