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Dear Teacher

Your Questions of Teachers-Answered

June 01, 2011
Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or ask them on the columnists' Web site at www.dearteacher.com.

Finding a New School in Another State

Question: We are looking to relocate to a new state on the East Coast. My daughter will be in the fifth or sixth grade when we move. Where can we find the best information regarding schools in the city where we plan to live? - On the Move

Answer: Begin by going to the new state's Department of Education Web site. State Web sites can be called "one-stop shopping" for a new school. On many sites, you can enter the type of school that you are seeking, in such categories as general location, schools of excellence, size of school, class size and student achievement. Schools that fit your basic parameters will be listed. Then you can click on different schools and compare them in such areas as teacher quality, school safety and environment, and access to technology. On other state Web sites, the search for schools is often organized by city, county or school district. The sites may also tell you how to contact non-public education schools.

Using the state Web site is a good starting point, but it is only giving you quantitative information. For more information about the character of individual schools, you definitely need to visit the Web sites of the local school systems that interest you. They will let you know about other important factors, such as the breadth of academic and extracurricular offerings and school leadership. Finally, there is no substitute for visiting the schools where you are seriously considering enrolling your daughter to see the actual buildings and to absorb the atmosphere of the school.

In your case, there is one additional consideration. In many school districts, children leave elementary school at the fifth or sixth grade level to attend middle school, while others offer K-8 schools. You'll need to consider the school configuration that you want for your child.

Finding the Right Program for a High-ability Child in Kindergarten

Question: My daughter will begin kindergarten in the fall. She is reading at a late first grade/early second grade level, and her math skills are similar. Do I let the teacher know this at the beginning of the year and ask for extension activities or just do nothing? I don't want to be labeled "one of those parents," but I want to make sure there are opportunities for my child's growth in these areas, even though they are beyond the state benchmarks for her grade. - Uncertain

Answer: Typically, the kindergarten teacher should be given the chance to identify your daughter's academic abilities. However, as you may want to find a more challenging kindergarten program, you need to do some investigating now. Contact the school and arrange for an appointment to talk with a kindergarten teacher or administrator. Ask what provisions the school has in place for students who are one to two years above grade level in reading and math. Your daughter is definitely not the first child to have entered this kindergarten and been capable of working above grade level.

If the school does not have a curriculum or a policy of challenging children like your daughter, you might want to look for a more academic program for your daughter at a different school. The district may have a school for gifted children or a magnet school that could be more appropriate for your child. You did not mention if this is a half- or a full-day program. That would definitely make a difference, as there will be less time for reading and math activities in a half-day program.

Remember that you can also provide some of the academic stimulus your daughter needs by enrolling her in outside of school programs that challenge her. Don't get so focused on reading and math that you forget other academic areas like music, art, science or foreign languages. Your daughter is constantly learning from her entire environment; don't just limit her to reading and math knowledge.

Homeschooling Laws and Testing Skills

Question: My sister's family is homeschooling their 10-year-old boy. It seems to me that he knows far less than my child who is the same age. He has never been taught how to do division and rarely does any work in social studies. Fortunately, he seems to be a good reader. Are there any laws that make sure homeschooled children are receiving a good education? Shouldn't he be taking standardized tests? - Very Worried

Answer: Individual states have their own laws on homeschooling. And they definitely are not the same for each state. Some spell out in great detail what must be taught. They may even ask for documentation that these subjects are being taught. Others list a few subjects or have no specific requirements. State laws also vary on whether homeschooled children are required to take standardized tests. If your sister's state doesn't require testing, it will be hard to know if the child is actually working at his grade level. It is very easy to find out the legal requirements that must be met by homeschooling families. Just visit the Web site of the Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) and click on the name of your state.

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Tags: Education, Enrichment, Kids, Parenting

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