Monday, February 20, 2012

They will all catch up by third grade?

I am not sure if it was in my college classes or during my first teaching jobs that I heard the statement, "all students seem to catch up with each other around the third grade."  As a new, young teacher, I accepted this, without reservation.  I was aware of developmental differences in children and I knew that not every baby walked at 12 months on the dot. It was easy to spot differences in my first grade and kindergarten students--some did not speak in complete sentences, and some came in reading,  so when I was told that these developmental differences all seem to end around third grade, I believed it. Then my oldest daughter went to school...

Haylie is very bright and she is schoolhouse gifted.  I could teach her something once, and she had it. I found myself constantly frustrated with her school experience.   Her first grade teacher had her in a middle reading group, ("because she was comfortable there with her friends"), even though she read head and shoulders above the top group. She never pushed Haylie in any way. Second grade was more of the same. Haylie passed every spelling test with 100% without even studying, she used cute little bear manipulatives to add and subtract, even though she could do it in her head, nothing was new or challenging.  Any suggestion I made about advancing her skills was treated with the typical pat on the head and the insinuation that this was my first child and I just didn't understand. (Never mind that I had been a kindergarten and first grade teacher myself.) I was beginning to doubt that all students caught up developmentally at third grade. To me, it seemed to have more to do with making kids sit around and wait while everyone else caught up.

Then we moved to another state. My daughter had a teacher for third grade that had two gifted daughters of her own, and she had studied gifted strategies. She immediately recognized Haylie's giftedness and she pushed her--hard. Haylie thrived.  Her reading level increased dramatically, as well as her writing skills. When the students were asked to do a report on a famous person, after reading their biography, Haylie brought home a book that was written on a middle school level, not a third grade level and it was perfect for her. She learned a ton that year and was NOT on the same level as the other students.

It has been twenty years since Haylie was a first grader, but little has changed.  My sister is dealing with the exact same attitude toward her highly gifted Kindergartener. She is completing the first grade curriculum for reading, but will be expected to do it again next year. She can add and subtract in her head, but she is not allowed to go on to first grade math.  The teacher told my sister that by third grade, all students seem to catch up, so it will be ok.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Do students really catch up developmentally by third grade, OR is that idea so entrenched in the teaching philosophy that we make it a self-fulfilling prophesy?  Does not teaching bright kids on their level when they are in the primary grades, ensure that all students catch up? I decided to see if any research has been done on this wide held belief. I am still searching for actual research on the subject, but I did find the following articles that provide thought provoking information.

This is a great article by Carol Bainbridge   that looks at this question from several angles. It discusses "hothoused children,"  or children that are drilled on letters, numbers, sounds, etc. from an early age, and then come into school ahead of their peers. Some of these students have had three years of preschool and lots of one-on-one time, but when they enter school, and have to learn required skills at a faster pace, they slip, and they are no longer ahead of the rest of their class. I acknowledge that this happens, but the second half of the article gives good information about how to recognize a truly gifted student.

Here is another article with one mom's opinion about early education and giftedness. The comments are well worth reading.

And just so you don't feel alone in your is a page of "real" situations that parents have encountered while trying to advocate for their gifted kids...laugh or cry, it's your choice!


  1. LOVED that article by Carol Bainbridge! It made me so relieved that, even if Kirk isn't being challenged in school, he is not going to lose his 'giftedness'. :) Also - your 2nd link doesn't go anywhere, by the way. Thanks for the info!

  2. Hey Debbie! I didn't know you had a blog - I just found it! What a great idea! I'll look forward to reading! My family blog is private - if you're interested, email me and I will send you an invite! I'm so happy you're doing this! :)

  3. Also, Just wanted to let you know Maggie is doing so great in 4th grade!! It's acutally such a relief to not see 100% on everything all year. She is still getting A's but she has to work harder to get them. She has really been challenged and Mrs. Bruce just assigned her to do an extra report because she felt like she needed even more of a challenge in reading. Her attitude towards learning and school is like it was in Kindergarten again! YAY! THANKS so much for all of your help and guidance. We couldn't be more thrilled for her!