Back to School: What to expect this year (academic milestones for each grade)

It’s back to school time! Hope everyone enjoyed their summer. I am ready for the kids to go back to school and get back to a regular routine.

You will find many websites with information on physical, cognitive and social milestones for a child’s growth.  But it is not easy to find information on what to expect in each grade in school as far as academics goes. Before the kids head back to school, here is an overview of what to expect in the year ahead from what I have learned over the years.

Elementary School (grades kindergarten – 5th grade)

Kindergarten through second grade are the years when kids develop a routine, learn discipline in class, learn to listen and follow instructions from their teacher. During these years they also learn to enjoy learning, make friends in school and most importantly have fun in school. The parent’s job during these years is to review the work they bring from school, ask questions and try to find out what they like and not like about school. At this age they won’t remember what they did in school that day or even remember what they ate for lunch. You might need to probe a bit to get any info from them.

In third grade, most public schools start testing the students using standardized testing usually in English, Reading, Mathematics and Science (read more here) and these state assessments are given from 3rd grade through high school. Students who do well in MAP testing (given in 3rd -8th grade) and/or CogAT testing (given to eligible students) are chosen to be in the school’s gifted program by the end of third grade.

In fourth grade, usually towards the end, kids get to test out different musical instruments to join band in fifth grade. Band and chorus starts in fifth grade. Some schools have an option to choose orchestra in 5th grade as well. Even though it is not mandatory to participate in band/chorus, 5th grade is the year to try it out and see if they like it and want to continue it in middle and high school. Some selected students in fourth or fifth grades are given Algebra Readiness Test (more info coming soon) to check their readiness to take Pre-Algebra in 5th or 6th grades when all the other kids do not start taking Pre-Algebra till 7th grade. Kids are again tested in 5th grade for the gifted programs in middle school.

Middle School (6th grade – 8th grade)

In middle school, there are lots of opportunities for extra-curricular activities. There are clubs like robotics, math counts, quiz bowl, jazz band, show choir etc. This is the time to try out different clubs when the academic workload is still light. I would recommend every child to try out the Mathcounts club even if they are not the best at math. They get to solve a lot of problems, learn tips and tricks which will make their future math classes easier to understand. So for all these clubs, it is OK if they don’t make it in the school team, they will still learn a lot.

In middle school, it will become evident that kids take different tracks in English and Math classes. Some kids who started Pre-Algebra in 5th grade will be taking Algebra in 6th grade, while others might be taking 6th grade Math and won’t start Pre-Algebra till 7th grade. Same is the case for English. There will be a group of kids taking Language Arts in 6th grade while others take Advanced Language Arts. All this is based on the student’s performance in the elementary school. There will be a pool of elective classes to choose from as well.

If you have a child who has been identified as a gifted student,  7th grade is a good time to sign them up to take SAT because many gifted programs like John Hopkin’s CTY program has 13 years of age as the cut off age to be included in their gifted program. 8th grade is a good time to sign up your gifted child for ACT to be included in Belin-Blank’s talent search program (read here). Even if the kids score really well in ACT or SAT in middle school, they will still need to retake it in high school for college admissions.

High School (9th -10th grade)

High School is all about time management. If your student participates in a sport and other extra-curricular activities like band, show choir, musicals, robotics, mock trial etc, it is important to manage time, complete school work and earn good grades as well. At the end of the day, GPA and ACT/SAT scores are key in getting into the desired programs and colleges of their choice and for being eligible for scholarships of various kinds.

High school course planning should be done with the future of college in mind. Taking the maximum number of AP classes need not be the primary goal, but make sure to choose courses which complement the major the student is planning to take in college. Colleges look for the coursework done and the volunteering history to look for the applicant’s passion in the field of study they want to pursue in college, when selecting students.

Junior year is a good time to make a list of colleges to visit before sending out applications to them in Senior year. Also, it will also be useful to make a list of scholarships and their deadlines in Junior year, so that no deadlines are missed out in the Senior year.

In High School, time flies with the busy schedule, but High School is also the time when you make a lot of long lasting memories in life. So, to all the high schoolers out there, don’t forget to have some fun.

Some of the information provided above may be a little different for each school district and different states. Your child’s teacher is the best resource you have. No matter what grade your child will be in this year, it is important that parents take some time to talk to your children about school. When parents are engaged in discussions about school with their kids, the kids stay engaged in learning as well.

Have a fun school year!

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