Matching Up: Setting Standards with the Elementary School Environment
The importance of a school environment that fosters excellence, not just adequacy, extends from early childhood education to high school. However, the focus on whether or not kids are meeting standards is perhaps most emphasized in the elementary school environment.
The school environment encompasses the structure, schedule, space, curriculum and course work, and approach to socialization within a school. Schools are organized by grade level, forming the grades into the groupings known as preschool, elementary, middle, and high school.
Elementary school usually refers to grades one to six, but there are variations and configurations. Elementary school classes are typically self-contained classes with one teacher for all subjects. Students may be team-taught by two teachers, and some districts departmentalize their upper elementary grades.
Fourth grade may seem more difficult than third grade, because students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Additionally, students stop learning the basics of math and start applying those basics to advanced, multi-step math problems, such as long division. In other subjects, students begin content-area reading, reading for information rather than for just pleasure. While students should be reading to learn even in the first grade, content-area reading may be difficult for students who have never previously been asked to read for information. Great emphasis is placed on achievement test scores, and a lot of time is spent in preparation for the tests in grades 3–12.
While testing may seem rampant these days, it is a way to check early on whether kids are coping well in school, or if they’re showing indications of failing to thrive. Elementary school is when disparities in academic performance really start to come out strongly. It’s important that teachers in the early grades create an environment ready to spot and support students who may be falling behind so they can catch up, instead of falling through the cracks.