September 2023

Skipping Grades, Relevance of College and Homework Research

Editor’s Note: The following questions were submitted by Growing Up in Santa Cruz to Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Faris Sabbah, based on common questions we’ve received from our readers. If you have questions about a topic impacting TK-12 education, please submit them to [email protected] with “Ask the Superintendent” in the subject line for a chance to have them addressed in a future column

How do you know whether your child should skip a grade or stay back?
This question really depends on the age of your child, the school district’s specific policies, and your child’s academic and social-emotional preparation. But in general, skipping a grade – also called acceleration – isn’t something that most families should worry about. In instances where a student is academically advanced beyond their peers, it’s often a better option to participate in more advanced courses rather than skip the grade altogether. This could look like a 3rd grader joining a higher math class, but remaining with their peers for all other content matter.

California Education Code Section 48070.5(d) states that grade skipping should only be used as a last resort, after other interventions have been unsuccessful. The law also requires that parents be involved in the decision-making process and that students be given a plan for success if they are allowed to skip a grade.

The research on students skipping a grade in school is mixed. Some studies have found that grade skipping can have positive academic and social outcomes, while others have found that it can have negative social, and emotional outcomes, and lead to social isolation.
If you believe this option may be appropriate for your child, start by setting a meeting with their current teacher to discuss. They can explain the process to make this request.

Grade retention, meanwhile, is the practice of keeping a student back in a grade level for another year. California Education Code Sections 48000-48070.5 and your local School Board Policies provide guidelines about the retention of students.

For example, the law specifies that retention should only be used if the student is significantly behind their peers academically and socially. The law also gives parents a voice in the decision-making process and ensures that students who are retained have a plan for success. However, the decision of whether or not to retain a student is ultimately up to the school district, based on the student’s academic progress and other factors.

Most research studies have demonstrated that grade retention is detrimental for students. Students who have been retained have an increased risk of social isolation, emotional challenges, lower self-esteem, reduced motivation to learn, and an increased likelihood of dropping out of school. Not all retained students experience these negative outcomes. However, the research suggests that there is a higher risk of these problems occurring for retained students than for students who are promoted to the next grade level.

Parents who have concerns about their child’s academic progress or social-emotional well-being should reach out to their child’s teacher(s), school counselor, or administrator to discuss how to best support their child.

Is college still relevant and necessary in the modern world, given factors such as its high cost and the wide availability of free learning resources online?
Our job in public education is to help students maximize their options and opportunities for their future, including having the option to attend college. But we recognize that attending college is not for everyone

There are certainly many rewarding careers that do not require a college degree, including in the trades. The Santa Cruz County Office of Education offers a number of Career-Technical Education programs geared toward providing students with job training in rewarding fields that often do not require a college degree. One of these programs is our Building Trades Pre-Apprenticeship, which graduated its second cohort last year. And in the year ahead, we are planning to add a robotics program to our offerings. You can find out more about all of our career and adult learning services at

There are many benefits to attending college for many careers. I recently had a conversation with an executive at Looker, a local tech startup that was recently bought out by Google. I asked how often they hired computer scientists who did not have a college degree. They explained that 90% of their developer hires are college graduates. Their experience was that, beyond coding and computer science skills, those with college degrees demonstrated stronger skills in team-building, social intelligence, communication and other skills.

At the end of the day, the decision of whether to attend college or not is entirely individual. There is no right or wrong answer. Community colleges, such as Cabrillo College in Aptos and Watsonville, are a key bridge –balancing affordability, career-oriented training, and prospects to transfer to excellent four-year programs.

How much homework is enough—and should students even have homework?
The role of homework in K-12 is an evolving and nuanced topic, with research leading to different conclusions depending on students’ grade level and other factors.

The most current research on homework at the elementary level suggests that there is little or no positive benefit for the academic achievement of students in elementary school. In fact, the research suggests homework at the elementary level is more likely to have a negative impact on students’ attitudes toward school and their social-emotional development.

On the other hand, recent research found that there was a small positive relationship between homework and academic achievement for middle school students. At the high school level, most studies suggest homework can have a positive impact on student achievement, especially in math and reading.

Further complicating the topic, studies have shown homework is associated with increased levels of stress and anxiety for across elementary, middle and high school students.

Given this mixed picture of the effectiveness of homework, it is especially important for homework assignments to be relevant to student interests, challenge students to develop time management and problem-solving skills, and offer school-based opportunities to get help with homework completion rather than relying on the availability or experience of caregivers.

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