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Why Teaching Academics by Skill Level vs Grade Level is Better for Your Child.

Debra Lambrecht, Founder, Caulbridge Education | April 21, 2019

Grouping students by skill level rather than grade level for math and language arts meets the needs of those students who are ready for more advanced academics, as well as those who are struggling and need to catch up. At Caulbridge School, students across the grades move among these skill level groups, depending on what skills they need practice to master.

For a student who struggles, it does not mean they’ll always be below grade level. Once the foundational reading skills and basic math facts are solid, children might progress quite quickly. It is impossible however, for children to learn Third Grade math when they have not mastered the basic First or Second Grade level expectations. Our approach to remediation is different than sending your Third Grader to the First Grade classroom for math lessons! Because all students are grouped by skill level, there is no grade level distinction for children to compare or compete. If the goal is strong academic skills, it is necessary to create an environment that supports optimal learning using structured academics and sequential mastery of skills.

This model also supports children who are advanced beyond the Kindergarten level expectations of basic letters and numbers, and can move on to more structured academics that build upon their solid one-to-one correspondence and letter/sound recognition.

If a Kindergarten student is reading at Second Grade level, isn’t it better to move them up to First Grade so they won’t be bored? No. And here’s why.

We have seen that a 5-year-old who is an advanced reader is NOT a young First Grader; he is a really intelligent Kindergartener. Which means that developmentally he is best supported by the routines and practices of the Kindergarten classroom; learning to be a student, building his stamina and body/brain connection, and developing the output level needed for the grades. A really smart Kindergarten child will demonstrate cognitive capacities beyond their years. While they are ready for the inputs of more intellectual stimulations, they may not be ready for the work outputs required of a First Grader. As a younger child, their sensory-motor, sensory-processing, spatial awareness and social skills are still developing and will not support the added workload to their body and brain. Moving ahead prematurely will result in frustration and breakdowns in the emotional, social, physical and academic areas of a child’s life.

Our model of teaching also solves some of the issues for children with summer birthdays. When my daughter, turned six in early summer, I was faced with the dilemma of putting her in First Grade or another year of Kindergarten. Trying to sort out this decision, I said to her teacher that “in some ways she’s ready for First Grade.” Her teacher agreed, “in some ways she’s ready for Third Grade!” But, at what cost? Looking back, the decision to give her another year of Kindergarten was the best one at the time. It would have been even better with the option of fostering her academic development in a way that matched her readiness.