Q&A – What Grade Is The Most Important For Kids?

Today’s entry: Brian, thank you for the story illustrating the issues associated with online learning outcomes during the pandemic. Something stood out to me that I’d like more information on if it’s available. The grades studied were 3rd through 8th. Why were those the ones studied? Are they the most important for most children or just a coincidence? It led to me wondering what grade or grades are the most important and whether we should prioritize classroom education during the pandemic for children in those grades.

Bottom Line: This note comes following my recent breakdown of the NWEA fall assessment which showed that the average student using online education during the pandemic is falling significantly behind. In the assessment, the average online learner had fallen half a grade year behind where students were a year ago. The results were worst in math and science. The conclusion was clear, parents should prioritize classroom education for their kids, despite the pandemic. You make an interesting point though. 

There’s some debate in academic circles about the most important year in one’s education. In fact, some preschool advocates will argue the most important developmental year is prior to grade school with preschool and/or kindergarten habits setting the stage for one’s academic life. According to long-standing data from the National Assessment of Education Progress, it's clear that if you’re to pick one grade that’s the most meaningful, it's third grade. You’re likely familiar with the saying “learning to read; to reading to learn”, third grade is where that conversation applies. According to the National Research Council, third grade is the most predictive of a person’s academic life. Those who aren’t able to read by third grade are those most likely underperform academically over the course of their lives. This includes information linking third-grade reading comprehension to future dropout rates.

Based on this data, it’s safe to say the highest priority for classroom education should be for those who are the youngest. Incidentally, the recent NWEA assessment showed the youngest students were those most likely to struggle with online learning. That’s a potential double whammy for these children who are at a critical phase of their educational development. It’s not a mistake third grade starts the window of time most accredited educational assessments, like the NWEA, take place. Recently, Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie told me the priority for parents should be to return their children to the classroom as soon as possible. Based on all available information, that’s good advice for all parents but especially for those who have children in elementary school.

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