Thursday, March 05, 2009

Grade Skipping AKA Grade Acceleration, Part II

I'm reading: Grade Skipping AKA Grade Acceleration, Part IITweet this!

Last week I wrote Part I on grade skipping and acceleration. I talked about Smartypants and the fact that he's been accelerated in math since kindergarten.

My younger boy, Pikachu, a kid who's clearly got talent, always had a thing for numbers. When he was a toddler he'd tell me how many slices where left in a loaf of bread or how many people were left in Starbucks after two patrons headed outside. Huh? He was paying attention to those things? Even as an older child he loved learning about number like googol and the concept of infinity.

Pikachu is an "enriched" grade level math class. From the feedback I've received, I believe he's one of the top performers and I feel like he could do more. More challenge, more complexity, but he needs instruction, too.

A few weeks ago he took the EXPLORE test, a test designed for and administered to 8th graders to determine placement in high school. Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search offers students in 3rd through 6th grade the chance to take this test. Why?

It's a given that an advanced child will typically score top marks on state achievement tests, but what useful information comes out of that?

Out of level testing can provide valuable feedback on academically talented children. Comparing the performance of a gifted 3rd grader to that of 8th graders gives parents and teachers information that can help guide educational choices and options. Oh, and Northwestern offers advanced math and English classes to qualifying precocious children for a fee, so there's that angle, too.

Smartypants took the test last year, but got sick during it, so I made him retake it because I'm mean like that. When Pikachu heard me discussing EXPLORE, he begged me to let him take it. Yes, he begged me to let him take a 2-3 hour standardized test on a Saturday morning. Go figure.

But unlike Smartypants who's happy to be up a grade in math, when I mentioned to Pikachu that perhaps he'd move up in a similar fashion, he began to cry. He's really happy where he is.

It was an eye-opening moment. Parents of gifted children are often perceived as a pushy lot, certainly some are, but it all goes back to the child.

In a public school setting, Smartypants has always been happiest in his accelerated math class. (At the gifted school, the levels were more fluid, so this didn't apply.) We did have to push a bit to get him into the class, but it was something he wanted to do.

As for Pikachu, I'm in a quandry. He doesn't want to move up, which frankly is easier for us all, but when he comes home with an A+ on a test for which he did not study, that tells me it's not a great fit and he needs a bit more challenge.

In a few more weeks we'll see how he did on the EXPLORE test and take it from there.

My overall concern is not that I have genius children who are pushed to their limits, rather I'm concerned about having lazy ones who just coast through school and then freak out when they are faced with a real challenge.

Speaking of which, here is one of my favorite posts on the topic of gifted children and challenge by Tamara Fisher, who writes Unwrapping the Gifted at Teacher Magazine.

Read more of my posts on gifted education.


Amy said...

I don't really know how to say this without sounding cocky, but I was one of those kids who coasted through school without ever studying or really doing anything. I was still at the top of my class.

Some days I regret not pushing myself or that no one ever ask me to.

You'll make the right decision.

RL Julia said...

If P is happy in the math class but still getting A's with little effort maybe he could do some other types of work and remain in the class - he could help the kids who aren't getting A's, complete extra projects on the side etc...

P doesn't seem like lazy or uninquisitive so if he doesn't want to leave the class, he must be getting or learning something from it - maybe just not math.

MudslideMama said...

Actually, I think you're in a really fortunate position! I have one gifted kid, the other one, well...let's just say she excels in "other" (nonacademic) areas. :) It's hard to see her really having to buckle down and study the coursework that came so naturally to her older sibling.

I enjoyed reading your post; your sons are lucky, too, to have a parent who is involved in their education like this.

Leighann said...

As someone who always excelled at math, let me tell you that I refused to do math homework for an entire year when I moved to a new school. They thought I was remedial. In actuality, my third grade mind found it beneath me to do such simple math.

So the next year I took two math classes, one with my grade and one that was for the advanced 5th graders.

For some gifted children, I think it is important to engage them and challenge them, lest they be bored to tears and lazy, like I was.

Then again, it's a fine line between what a parent wants for their child or thinks is appropriate and what a child actually wants to do.

(And like Amy above, I'm not trying to be full of myself. And I think sometimes that I didn't apply myself because sometimes it was nice to just coast along and spend energy on other things.)

Meagan Francis said...

I skipped a grade and was STILL one of those lazy kids that coasted...until things evened out a little and school was no longer a cinch for me, at which point I basically gave up. I think skipping was actually not the right choice for me, though it probably seemed like it at the time and I don't blame my mom & teachers for making that choice. I was always behind socially and while I was "smart enough" to keep up, I had a really hard time developing the responsibility/organization skills I needed for middle school. I just don't think I was developmentally "there" yet.

I think some kids really embrace challenge and others kind of like just being high achievers without having to put a ton of work into it. I don't necessarily think it means that kid will end up being lazy or developing bad habits.

My 9 YO is at the top of his class, but he has such a straightforward attitude about it that it doesn't worry me, though he could technically be doing 4th grade work--I know that no matter what, he will sum up the situation, figure out exactly what's expected of him, and perform to that standard. I don't see that changing. My 11 year old would probably struggle even if we moved him DOWN a grade because he over-thinks everything. Like you said, very different personalities and different needs~!

Shari said...

Push, push, push. I was always the "teacher's helper" aka the person finished with the assignment first. I was bored a lot. I wish someone had challenged me more. I liked the article and subscribed to the blog.

Chief Family Officer said...

Interesting quandry. I very much believe that the greatest value of school is social skills, and that a school setting isn't really necessary for academic advancement. I *think* that if it were my child, I'd let him stay in his math class at school, and if he wanted advanced math outside of school, I'd try to give him that opportunity. There will be plenty of other chances for him to learn to work hard for achievement, and he'll be fine.

And for what it's worth, I was not, like some of the previous commenters, extraordinarily bright - in public school, I was placed with the "gifted" students but in excellent private schools I was quite average :)

FishyGirl said...

For some completely unwanted assvice: I'd say as long as he's not becoming a discipline problem in the classroom and he enjoys it, let him stay where he is, and then provide any opportunities you can outside of the classroom to give him some more challenging instruction and see how he does. My daughter (and I before her) becomes a horribly disruptive kid when not challenged enough. We have to keep her busy so she stays out of trouble. If you don't have to do that with him, and he's happy, then I'd leave him where he is. There's enough time for him to learn not to coast before it becomes a problem :-)

csdblogger said...

"My overall concern is not that I have genius children who are pushed to their limits, rather I'm concerned about having lazy ones who just coast through school and then freak out when they are faced with a real challenge."

This was exactly my own problem after flying through high school and freaking out in my college physics class because I suddenly had to open the book. It's also why we are now homeschooling my 8th grader. After struggling with the public schools for 6 years and hearing how he was well above the class and we should not be "worried", we decided he needed a challenge so he would not become an underachiever.

While in school, he loved the constant attention, and also started to love to brag that he could do all his homework in 5 minutes on the bus while the neighbor kids were getting home and spending an hour or 2. He did not love the constant feeling of boredom, and always being assigned to help the slow kids. He also become very uncomfortable when being challenged academically by me, or his piano teacher - he was too used to easy street.

So, unlike many of these other comments, I firmly believe that letting kids go the status quo and continue to sail through, while underachieving and not being challenged is not a good thing.


Good Luck!

Unknown said...

These are my exact concerns with my son!