In the first of these posts, I told you how my 6-year-old daughters’ old school failed to maintain accurate academic records for them.
In August of last year, I bought a new house. I packed up my kids, cats and household goods and moved 900 miles from El Paso, where my now ex-husband is stationed with the army, back to the Austin area where my job and most of my friend are.
One of the first things I did was register my twin daughters, M and J, at their new elementary school. I explained their convoluted academic history to the registrar and showed her the note scribbled at the bottom of each of the girls’ transcripts: “Grades reflect 1st grade curriculum.”
The registrar made it clear that the scribble wasn’t going to solve our problems, and referred me to the school counselors. I explained to them that I wasn’t particularly attached to the idea of J and M progressing through school with kids a year their senior. My biggest concern was that they both continued to love school, and that they both learn something every day.
The counselors suggested that both J and M take a grade placement test to establish whether they were ready to enter 2nd grade at age 6. They would need to demonstrate having mastered at least 90% of the first grade curriculum to be allowed to skip a year and enter 2nd grade, which they would have done if they’d stayed in El Paso. It took only a few days to schedule the tests, and a couple more to get results.
M had qualified to enter 2nd grade in English and math, squeaking past the 90% cutoff with a 91%. She was 2 points below the cutoff for science and social studies, but the school had the right to choose to ignore those scores if they wanted. J, on the other hand, missed the cutoff with a score of 89% in math and in English.
This was déjà vu. I wasn’t about to split my twin daughters into separate grades, possibly for the rest of their school careers, without a very good reason. A 2% difference in test scores wasn’t a good reason in my eyes. Remember, a year earlier, I had caved into my now ex-husband’s desire see have our daughter J skip a grade while her sister stayed behind. The fact that the roles were reversed this time around just convinced me all the more that there was no reason to have the girls rush through school and miss out on being with kids their own age.
The counselors backed me up. They would also prefer to see M and J do first grade over again and stay with kids their own age. I had done intensive research and picked this school for them. It had a reputation of excellent teaching and valuing an individualized approach to learning. I didn’t care what their grade was called as long as J and M were safe, learning new things, socializing with their peers, and enjoying school.
I did ask one favour. I wanted both my daughters in the dual language program. I knew that the other kids had had a year of both Spanish and English instruction in kindergarten. I figured that the disadvantage that J and M would be at because they would need to learn Spanish would be balanced out by the fact that they’d already learned the first grade material.
The Spanish-English dual language coordinator interviewed the girls. She reported that, although they had no Spanish comprehension at all, their English was strong enough that they wouldn’t stay lost for long.
I haven’t regretted for a minute letting M and J repeat first grade, although their father sees this as a major failure. He wants them to be evaluated to skip a grade again at the beginning of next year.
To my mind, school is at least as much about teaching social graces and a sense of accountability, learning to interact with peers, learning compassion and generosity, as it is about academics. The girls are flourishing in their new school, and the Spanish they’re learning will be a huge benefit to them here in Texas and in much of the world.
J captured it perfectly not long ago:
M was the only one in her class to get 100% on her science quiz! It was all in Spanish and she got 100%! When Ms C told us how well M did, I was so proud, I wept tears of joy.