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Is My Child Working at Grade Level?


Q. Both my husband and I were pretty smart in school, to the point where at times we were put in a higher grade for math class or, in my case, for reading. That was helpful to our parents, who always knew where we stood academically, and there were no surprises once we got into the honors classes in high school. But with the schools so adamant that there will be no "ability grouping" in grade school and middle school, how can we tell if our son is working at grade level, or beneath it in any subject, or if ahead, how far ahead?


It is difficult to know whether your school district has set the bar at a high level, a medium level, or a low level, if you have no basis for comparison.


But there is one standard for excellence in curriculum that might give you a pretty good idea of where your child stands, in reading and math ability as well as overall knowledge base. Or if your child is deficient in these areas, this curriculum can help plug grade-level gaps that your school district might not even recognize, and do it cheaply and very well.


There's a tremendous series of books for the grade levels, What Your ____-Grader Needs to Know, by E.D. Hirsch of the Core Knowledge organization ( He and colleagues from all over the country have devised a curriculum framework that is truly outstanding, and covers the educational career very well.


It's like a general textbook with things to read and articles on poetry, literature, sayings and phrases, world and American history and geography, the visual arts, music, math and science. The Core Knowledge series has been likened to a national curriculum: these are the things that a child in each of the various grades SHOULD know and be able to do.


The retail price is right: about $13. Each year, you could buy the book for that grade level, and compare the curriculum and your child's performance with the syllabus and examples that are in the Core Knowledge textbook. Then if you find your child's local classroom deficient, you can supplement with these materials.


And if your child's work appears to be above and beyond these examples in the book, congratulations! Your school's curriculum is excellent!


Homework: Another fine resource is the book What Your Child Needs to Know When by Robin Sampson. It's especially helpful if you have moved once or more, and wonder if there have been learning gaps in your child's knowledge base as a result.


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 138 2008***

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