Is My Child Working at Grade Level?

is my child working at grade level

Recent news articles report on the discrepancies in test scores that are appearing in the comparison of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests and state test scores.

An example of the most extreme difference is Mississippi’s scores. The state test shows that 87% of students are working at a proficient level compared to the NAEP scores showing that only 18% of students show proficiency. Missouri, the Show-Me State, reports a 36% proficiency rate, a match with the NAEP’s figures. Every state, except Missouri, reported a higher percentage of proficiency than the NAEP numbers.

Are our children receiving an adequate education? Are our children learning essential skills? What are parents to think?

One issue with the state and NAEP tests is that the tests are different. We have 50 distinct state tests and one NAEP test. Every child takes his or her state’s test but not the NAEP tests. Each state’s curriculum varies, and each state’s test is based on that state’s courses of study.

In the past few weeks I have received emails from concerned parents who want to know if their children are doing as well as grades and state proficiency exams would have them believe. Does an ”A” in Oregon correspond to a niece’s ”A” in Massachusetts? Is 4th grade proficiency in reading the same in Connecticut as in Texas?

Unfortunately, examining grades and proficiency tests between states are like comparing apples and oranges.

When we consider individual children into the mix, we may as well compare elephants and apples.

One of the most important educational yardsticks I’ve used is E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s series of seven books targeted from kindergarten through sixth grade, beginning with What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know. The books are also known as the Core Knowledge Series.

This series of books is beautifully illustrated and serves as a guide to each level of learning for children. Each book looks at what knowledge in language, math, science, music, art, history and technology your child should have.

Copies of these books were in my elementary classroom for a quick reference. My students enjoyed perusing the books for ideas of topics for research projects or to test their own overall knowledge.

I also encouraged parents to buy a book each year or visit my classroom and browse to get a general idea of the scope of work their child should be exposed to for the next year, not just at school, but in all aspects of life.

Another of Hirsch’s books, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, is a valuable resource. The appendix, What Literate Americans Know, should be a required reading for every parent and adult. Hirsch’s list creates a big picture of concepts every person should be exposed to before graduating high school. When I looked at it the first time, I found a few stumpers.

We can’t rely solely on test scores and grades to tell us if our children are learning what they need to become literate citizens. The Core Knowledge Series of books can help us view our children’s progress in a way that helps child and parent know what the next step in literacy should be.

For more information about Core Knowledge, visit

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