“Mrs. Schonfeld, I’m worried my son is falling behind!”
“Everyone else is reading more quickly than my daughter. Can you help her get up to speed.”
“Mrs. Schonfeld, I think my son is really on a high level in reading, but he doesn’t seem to understand anything in math class.”
“What should my daughter know in regards to multiplication right now?”
“My son can’t read script. I’m trying to teach him. How come he doesn’t know it yet?”
Parents are often anxious about what level their child should be at, regardless of his or her age or grade. Because I get phone calls about this all the time, I have put together a quick “cheat sheet” with milestones for reading, writing, and math from first grade through high school. This is just a simple chart you can consult if you are nervous about your child’s reading level. However, if your child’s teacher is concerned, or you believe there might truly be a delay, don’t hesitate to call an educational expert.
What do you do if your child is not at grade level?
Don’t compare your child to other children in order to identify whether he or she is on grade level. Instead, set up a meeting with your child’s teacher or the school’s guidance counselor and then determine whether in fact your child requires mediation.
Grades 1-3: In first and second grade, students are focused primarily on decoding the words in front of them. This is integrally related to phonics. Children generally learn phonics in kindergarten through second grade. In kindergarten, the focus is on the sounds of the consonant letters (all letters except the vowels a, e, i, o, and u). In first and second grade it’s the sounds of all the letters, letter combinations, and word parts (such as “ing” and “ed”). They practice reading and spelling words containing those letters and patterns. Second-graders typically review and practice the phonics skills they have learned to make spelling and reading smooth and automatic.
If students do not master the different phonemes, they will be unable to attain fluency, comprehension, higher vocabulary, or appropriate spelling (four essential skills developed in later levels of reading). When the rest of the class moves onto these later skills, your child might be lost if he has not mastered the phonemes appropriate for each grade level. Using phonics instruction is a great way to get your child up to grade level.
While math skills at this age are a lot of rote memorization, it can be helpful to work with children using note cards and other manipulatives such as Cuisenaire rods. This can aid students in understanding overall concepts.
Grades 4-8: In the upper elementary grades, if your child used to be at the top of the class and has begun to fall behind in abstract and comprehension, it might be worth looking into learning disabilities such as Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). Children with NVLD are highly verbal and generally excel in early elementary school, but later deal with issues related to motor coordination, visual-spatial organization and social activities. Therefore, if you notice that your bright and motivated child is struggling in areas that he wasn’t in the past, it might be worth looking into whether something bigger is going on. ADHD can also get in the way of learning at all ages, but particularly if it goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Grades 9-12: Once students are in high school, they need to use their “executive skills” in order to organize themselves and excel. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, in their book, Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,outline the ways that we employ executive skills regularly. They write, “Executive skills allow us to organize our behavior over time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. Through the use of these skills, we can plan and organize activities, sustain attention, and persist to complete a task. Executive skills enable us to manage our emotions and monitor our thoughts in order to work more efficiently and effectively.” Children and adults who have Executive Function Disorder are often late, disorganized, and messy. Because they have trouble moving fluidly from situation to situation, controlling their emotions through rational thought, problem solving, and keeping long-term goals, they often lose track of research assignments and major projects. This adversely affects them when their schoolwork becomes about larger and longer projects. Consider helping them hone their executive skills through time management or checklists.