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Is My First Grader Being Challenged?

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My son switched from a religious private school to public school this year for first grade. Last year he excelled -- on the state aptitude test he received 99 percent in math and 97 percent in reading. This year at public school, he is having a difficult time following instructions and when he was tested to see if he should be placed in the accelerated programs, he tested at 81 percent. His teacher says he is average. Everything he does indicates that he is very bright. I believe that he is not challenged or is getting easily distracted in his current environment. How do I tell the difference and what do I do?

A: It is usually not too difficult to determine if first-graders are being challenged. Look for the following signs that will show your son's schoolwork could be more challenging: All his papers are perfect or near-perfect; he easily reads selections from his reader and frequently reads more difficult material on his own; he can solve more complex math problems than are assigned; he does not seem to be learning anything new in class.

Your son's teacher should have a very good idea of whether or not he is able to focus on tasks or is easily distracted. It is quite possible that the environment in the public school is less structured than what he was accustomed to at the religious private school. The children may be able to move around and talk to each other more, causing your son to be distracted.

Parents are usually good judges of their children's abilities. You also need to understand that test results are not completely reliable indicators of how smart young children are. So many things can cause children to do poorly on tests. In any case, a single test score should never be the only factor in making placement decisions.

It's time for a talk with your son's teacher about how well he is really doing in school. Ask to look at the work of both average and superior students to see how it compares to your son's work. Then discuss ways that you and the teacher can work together to ensure that your son has the best possible classroom experiences. Do remember that you have a responsibility for seeing that your son has enriching educational experiences at home.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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