When Your Child Isn’t At Grade Level

He is reading at a first-grade level now,” I said to the doctor, holding my breath.

What?” she said with a mix of surprise and concern. “He’s ten.

I paused for a moment and decided to ignore the comment welling up in my throat about how I am pretty sure I know how old he is.

Well, two years ago, he was at a preschool level, so really, he has made two years worth of progress in two years,” I said, sure she would nod her head and appreciate the progress.

She didn’t.

We spent the rest of our time together talking about the many options for dyslexia interventions, and getting him to ‘grade level’.

I left feeling so sad for my youngest son, who works so hard, but never feels like it is enough.

I understand why he feels this way.

Learning disabilities are so sneaky.

When your child Isn't At Grade Level (1)

His doctor is well versed in dyslexia and learning differences. She knows exactly what his IQ testing and learning profile mean. She knows the asynchrony of a child profoundly gifted in some areas, and profoundly delayed in others.

And she still cannot believe, after educational therapy and daily instruction for more than two years, that he is only capable of reading Hop On Pop on his best day.

I understand why she feels this way.

Learning disabilities are so sneaky.

When your child Isn't At Grade Level (2)

We discussed the school vs. homeschool options for him. I used to think he needed to be in school in order to receive the intervention he needs. I have since learned better, but the doctor surprised me when she said, “With his needs, there is no way the school system would be able to adequately help him. You might be able to eventually get the school district to pay for him to go to special private school, but that would take years and I am not convinced it would be a good fit for him either.

So you see my dilemma, ” I thought to myself, but did not say.

Learning disabilities are so sneaky.

When your child Isn't At Grade Level (4)

 

I came home to my children, exhausted and feeling the weight of it all.

I walked away from the appointment with good advice about all the things I need to do.

And I am grateful for it.

And I am tired of it.

It feels like we are running some sort of race – with grade level as the finish line.

Grade level means nothing to my children.

My oldest is reading at a college level proficiency, but cannot perform sequential tasks requiring even the most basic executive function.

My youngest is several grade levels ahead in history and science, but couldn’t read the word ‘said’ yesterday.

I cannot use grade level as the standard.

I know this. And yet I long for it. I want progress to be faster and more linear. I want grade level so much it hurts sometimes.

I want to be able to say to anyone who asks, “Yes, they are at grade level,” and never again have the discussion about how to speed up their progress.

I want to avoid the panic that rears its ugly head first thing in the morning and last thing at night. “Am I doing this right? What else can I do? Am I failing these children?

When your child Isn't At Grade Level (5)

My children are children. They are not math equations. They are not projects with completion dates.

As convenient as it would be for them to achieve grade level expectations, this is just simply not possible sometimes. More importantly, when I think about who they are becoming, what matters most in their lifetime, and how they will be most successful as adults, the less reading levels and math standards even matter.

So today, rather than worrying about all the progress we haven’t made, I choose to focus on all that my sons have accomplished.

Rather than worrying about grade levels and deficits, I choose to see the computer that my son built in less than two hours, on his own.

I choose to see the book that my little guy picked up, and the true joy with which he read it, rather than the words on the cover – Step 1 Ready to Read.

Today, I will do the best that I can for these children.

That means seeing them for who they are and accepting them, exactly where they are, no matter what their grade level.


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20 thoughts on “When Your Child Isn’t At Grade Level

  1. “Am I doing this right? What else can I do? Am I failing these children?”

    My thoughts, too. My kids are at or above grade level in their studies. And I’m still afraid. Afraid I’m not doing the right things to help them reach their potentials, to have good character, to develop executive functioning skills (as if the other things weren’t enough to worry about).

    My prayer for both of us and your readers — to fear not. To love our kids and grow with them. To trust more that really, God is good.

    1. This is totally true and you are totally an Awesome mom! As a parent of 2 children with LD in reading…I hear you loud and clear! One went “thru the system” and got LD help for reading…but we had to be his advocate in so many ways…thankfully some of his helpers were sensitive & gave him space and let him lead….regretfully some laughed at us and told US that we knew NOTHING about our child. When our 8th child followed his brothers footsteps in reading LD we were wiser…we had chosen homeschooling for our last 3 children, so had already in place to let him progress at his level & allow time for him to mature more….and find the right “key” for unlocking his reading code. It’s coming….slowly…but there is progress! Each child is unique! God bless you for knowing that and sharing!

  2. Oh my goodness, there is so much to say here (all in support of what you are saying). I had very frustrating moments as an educator and the “grade level” label. I had one kid like Sourdough, who was beyond measure in the reading comprehension department, but couldn’t name one person they would consider a “friend”. I had one who could feel out the emotional tone of a room and know exactly what to say to someone who was having a hard time, but couldn’t solve basic math problems. The results from their reading and math diagnostics told a story that the district wanted to hear, but I hated to think that it was the only label that would follow them around. We are preparing our kids for the future, for who they will become and how they will interact with the world around them, and I guarantee that once “school” is finished, not one person will ask them about their grade level again. I hate the federal mandates that are driving these questions. I hate the districts and the states that aren’t fighting tooth-and-nail against them. I hate that we have no idea how to see kids individually instead of as a collective. We do the best we can, I guess. I just wish we could do it better.

    1. So well said, Allison. I always love hearing your perspective, as a wonderful teacher and now as a mom. Thank you so much!

  3. I needed this today! I’m pretty sure my kids are at grade level (or close to it) for most subjects but with one tiny WELL MEANING comment from my husband this weekend I have been stressing over my 11 year old and that he does not yet know. All that he struggles with to learn. Am I doing enough? Will he be able to function and support himself and his family as an adult. Should I push him to go to college and prepare him as if he will even though he claims he does not want to go.

    This homeschooling thing is HARD and most days I do what you said; I push aside all the doubts and fears and worries and I focus on what they do know, how hard they are working, and how much they have grown.

  4. As a mom of a preschooler and a second grader, I worry on a daily basis if they have any learning disabilities, as it was called when I was in school. Today it’s learning differences and I still struggle with my dyslexia and dysgraphia but the good new is that I have persevered. It hasn’t been an easy road and so I wish my children and all children easier travels.

  5. This is so beautifully and eloquently written. It has all the emotions and daily worries that I and probably most homeschooling mamas struggle with. Thank you for this passage. It touched me deeply and too will will strive to follow your advice!

  6. Thank you so much!! I am actually a clinician with a child who has dyslexia. What a perspective! I start now working on who he will be and wants to be not worrying if he has measures up to the grade level standard. Thank you so, so much!! You have no idea what peace you have given me!

  7. This is one of the most encouraging things I’ve read in a long time. My dd is 9, has just started taking off (slowly) in reading at a grade 2 level. It’s been a tough road with her, but we are persevering. She is so proud of her accomplishments, as am I. She told me the other night, “You don’t know how much I want to write a story, Mama.” I told her to start now anyway. Why wait? In fact, I might transcribe for her so she can read her own story. Thank you so much for this…tears.

  8. The words of Dr Laura Schlessinger ring in my ear. We mothers are proud of our “brilliant” and “beautiful” children, but her attitude is refreshing: The world has enough (self absorbed) geniuses and divas. What we need are loving, compassionate, thoughtful people. That your child is gifted or beautiful is fine, but they were wired that way! This is no reflection of a job well done by you [or me]. Conversely, we have to TEACH love and respect and compassion and diligence. Are you raising people of GOOD CHARACTER? Will the world be better for their presence?

    Those are the bragging points we moms should seek. I have yet to find any of those qualities measured on a standardized test. As parents, it is not our job to create yellow pencils. It is our job to raise productive, functional and (ultimately) independent individuals. The best way I know to do that is to LOVE your people for who they are, inspire them to be more than they are…and stop comparing them with “the average.”

    Forge on, fellow parent. Forge on!

  9. I cried when I read this. I am always trying to compare my son to those of his peers and trying to determine whether or not I am doing a good job as a homeschooling parent. My son struggles with reading and spelling but is above average in math and I am so determined to make sure he is reading at grade level. But why? Why does he have to be grade level? Who determines that and decides that my son is below averge? Your article was encouraging and I am going to learn to take one hour, one assignment, one day at a time and relish in the accomplishments that he does achieve.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this! You put on paper what I feel every day.Thank you for helping me see that it is ok.

  11. I love this and so spot on for me today. My question is how do you handle standardized tests? My state requires them still even for homeschoolers. I am terrified for my severely dyslexic son.

    1. Hi Anne,

      We do not have a requirement for standardized testing in our state. I do know many families that do.If you are not able to opt out (which varies state by state), many families take the test, but throw away the results without even looking at them. I think they set it up as a necessary, but not important step for their kids to take and try and take as much pressure off as possible.

      I hope this helps! Please ask more questions if needed.

  12. My heart was aching for you as I read this. Having Dyslexia myself and having a kiddo with it too I totally get the struggle. I have homeschooled all my kiddos and can tell you homeschooling my Dyslexic son has helped me grow so much as a teacher. Not everyone will ever be at grade level. One thing that has made me feel more confident is that statically most people read at a 4th grade reading level for pleasure reading. If the kids can at minimum get to a 4th-grade reading level they can read almost anything. Getting to that point can be extremely tricky for a Dyslexic kiddo. We were lucky enough to have a neighbor who works at the school in the reading department tutor our son several times a week for over 2 years. Even with all that help, plus homeschooling over this summer things just seemed to click for him, and his reading improved dramaticly. So dramaticly he is only 1 year behind in reading now, compared to the 4 he was back in June. He had to get to a point where he wanted to read better, and be willing to put in the time to struggle through, till he figured it out. So there is hope, for anyone with Dyslexia!

  13. Yes! And I wish people would just rejoice with me when I share a new skill or a new step taken. Be excited for me . . . don’t offer encouragement or ideas for him to do better. Just BE EXCITED and proud of him, for his sake (and for mine). I am thrilled for the progress my children make, each and every one of them, but when I share the progress of certain children people always put a damper on it. 🙁 Just be excited for him. Please!

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