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Gifted Children: Skipping Grades

Individualized Learning for Gifted Children.

Before she reached school age, mom and dad say they did very little to advance Hana academically. They believed, in the contrary, “let her be a kid.” They thought these early childhood years were important to building creative juices she would use her whole life as well as to establishing feelings of intrinsic reward and a flowing mindset. They placed these elements high on their list of priorities.

Now in the third grade, Hana was recently re-assessed so that mom and dad might try to better coordinate some educational programming that might make sense for her. The hope was that the re-assessment might add clarity and understanding of her needs as well as provide some guiding posts and better perspective on how to address them – for both parents and school officials.

Why a Re-assessment Made Sense

One of the things that has continuously amazed Hana’s parents is that total strangers have been able to quickly see Hana’s verbal and even analytical aptitudes, whether it has been their pediatrician, a fellow shopper in the grocery store, or someone just walking down the street and overhearing part of a conversation, yet very little was said of her skills in school – other than she was a pretty good student. So what was going on?

It is common for gifted children to hold back their talents in a plethora of situations, school being among them. There are several reasons. One possible cause is a high sense of perfectionism experienced by the gifted. Another reason is the desire to fit in, which often manifests in a gifted child’s intentionally diluting aptitudes and skills. Reasons like these as well as the lack of funds and addressing of special needs for the gifted makes them least likely population of students to reach their full potential.

Jan and Bob Davidson—founders of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development and authors of the book, Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds, write that genius has two different but interrelated meanings. “In one sense, genius means high intellectual potential; in another sense, genius means creative ability of exceptional high order as demonstrated by total achievement.” And they use both.

As such, Davidson programs for the gifted serve what they refer to as profoundly gifted youth. They define that with tests that are 99.9% or higher or children that are 3 standard deviations above the norm.

Hana’s recent assessment places her in both of these ranges. For her parents, her assessment also comes with a mix of feelings – of both joy and serious responsibility.

Depending on the IQ test, children participating in Davidson programs may norm differently and can peak anywhere from 145 to 150 in terms of IQ. The problem, as addressed in Genius Denied, is that “while children of IQs of 120 to 160 may be called gifted, they learn at different rates and think at very different levels.”

As I have mentioned many times in discussions on education for the gifted:

Most schools, public and private, do well providing students with a solid educational foundation. And we have taken some very productive steps in meeting the needs of low-achievers, middle-achievers, and even high-achievers. All kids deserve this.

To this author, however, it seems discriminatory to exclude anyone, regardless of his or her level of achievement—including the profoundly gifted. These children deserve, as do all others, the opportunity to reach their full potential.

To date, N.Y.S., Hana’s home, has zero funding mandated for gifted education.

So this leaves Hana’s parents holding onto a real mixed bag of feelings and a very small hand of possibilities in trying to help their child. They as they always have, want to first help her sustain her high enthusiasm and feelings of intrinsic reward for deep educational experiences. Secondly they want to involve her in a program that is cognizant of and reinforces her aptitudes as well as needs and can provide activities to help this little person grow her potentials. So far Hana has been able to sustain her flow experiences by hiking the challenges herself. But let’s take a closer look.

The problem is that denial of a high ability learner’s capabilities at the institutional level can (and often does) manifest in the child’s seeing two different standards for learning – that which goes on in the institution and that at home (and elsewhere).

For Hana, a dichotomy has already begun: tending toward reading, comprehending, and enjoying discussion of texts for a student twice her age (or sometimes more) that are offered at home and advanced science and math classes offered in the community. Yet, these are not a “repair.” In some ways these components can feel conflicting.

One conflict that can arise is of that of self-awareness. Gifted children can feel conflicted in terms of confidence, and flow – especially when the child begins to realize she can only show certain scholastic aptitudes at school and the others, perhaps her more profound aptitudes, remain unseen, un-encouraged (perhaps discouraged) and un-nurtured in the institution. These higher ability aptitudes, then, can become reserved for “outside” school life. This dichotomy can dull and/or confuse the child’s self-awareness, motivation, and behavior. Denial of a student’s aptitude can break the loop of learning and reward. It can turn off the flow faucet and re-set that student’s focus somewhere less authentic.

When this kind of conflict/dichotomy occurs, intervention may be appropriate. All young people should feel safe, nurtured, and respected for who they are and what they are capable of in school. This goes along with institutional philosophies that claim ensuring educational opportunities for each person to maximize his or her individual potential.

Again, it seems discriminatory to exclude anyone from reaching their maximum potential, regardless of his or her level of achievement—including the profoundly gifted.

Hana’s parents began their intervention with her aforementioned re-assessment. The new assessments placed her in the 99.9 percentile and 3 standard deviations above the norm. This gave them a base from which to examine her individual situation and attempt to bring more balance into her life.

Unfortunately in today’s economy, there have been a lot of cuts in education and the gifted programs are among the first to go. So many schools don’t “have to do” anything. Nonetheless, I would encourage you to attempt to dialogue with your institution. At least, you will know you have done all you could in that scenario.

One possible approach is to speak to school administrators in terms of collaboration – e.g. Ask: “How can we “both” help this little person?” But do your homework and be prepared.

If Hana’s situation is speaking to you here are a few ideas for preparation and action. Consider:

• An assessment or re-assessment

• Independent study based on the child’s high interests. These can be used as a supplement or better yet a basis for individualized programming. If appropriate to your child’s interests, look for ways to synthesize information across curriculums for the projects.

• Pull out, placement in upper level classes – e.g. language arts, science, math.

Leadership roles – in certain classes or afternoon classes. Perhaps your child can function as an aide or leader in one of these programs.

• Transitioning into grade skipping via individualized programs and pullout until the grade skip is to be made.

• Grade skipping.

Is Grade Skipping an Option?

Many findings show that when a child is with her intellectual peers she feels better and performs more optimally. I recently contacted The Davidson Institute for their thoughts. Young Scholars Program Manager, Andrew Quinn, explained as follows:

“From our work through the Davidson Young Scholars program, grade-skipping can work well depending on the individual situation. There’s a wonderful tool called the Iowa Acceleration Scale that parents and educators can use to determine whether acceleration might be appropriate for a student based on a myriad of factors from social to classroom settings and the impacts on the family. It is fairly common for the profoundly gifted students we work with to be either subject or grade accelerated, or both. If the academic needs of these students are not being met, they can become bored and begin to act out or underachieve. Once the student feels challenged academically, many of the behavioral problems disappear.”

A colleague of mine put it this way: Similarly, if as adults, for example, we were to be forced to always and only socialize with elementary school aged children, we wouldn’t like it very much.

Hana’s parents noted that behavioral issues that manifested in age-organized activities are almost nonexistent when Hana is around her mental-age peers. In fact, she seems calmer and happier in the aftermath.

For Hana, grade skipping with continued individualized programming is now in progress. The success of this plan of action will depend, of course, on sustained and coordinated cooperation and nurturing from parents and school, not an easy task, but one with great reward for all.


Note: A great resource for parents and educators is the book Bob and Jan Davidson wrote, Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds ( The Davidson’s offer a lot of helpful tips on what parents, educators, and the community can do to change their thinking about these students.

Two links you may enjoy reviewing if you are considering grade skipping are:

Acceleration research report - A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students

Whole grade acceleration success stories a compilation by Davidson Young Scholar Parents -