My Child is “Behind” – what should I do?

One of the questions frequently posted in ACE user forums or in the Yahoo Groups list is a variation of this – “My child is behind! Help! What can I do to catch him up?”

This question is usually asked by a parent whose child just took the diagnostic placement test. The parent probably expected the child to be at or above grade level (because every momma’s child is “bright”) with maybe one or two gap PACES . . . .  BUT . . . instead – shockingly – the test results placed their child 2 or 3 grade levels back – with a few gap PACES in the preceding level. How can that BE?!

With the ACE curriculum, you really have to embrace the educational philosophy that each child is unique with differing strengths and weaknesses. Just as “normal” 13 year olds can be of many varying heights, they also perform differently academically. You can have a child in chronological 8th grade doing 8th level Science and Social Studies, but 6th level math and 7th level English. (Notice how I chose to use the word “level” instead of “grade” – it’s a mental shift.) But the point is that she is working at HER level in everything. She is confidently doing the work, mastering new content, and not being overwhelmed. That is much more important than being “at the expected grade level.”

Another mental adjustment you need to make is not to take the test results personally. You are not being judged as a failure for the schooling your child received in previous years. The test is just determining where your child will find the greatest success in the PACES. Every curriculum is different, and you are just determining placement in the PACES – this is not an overall achievement test. Relax. Breathe deep. Your child is fine!

One more point I want you to understand is that the ACE English has a strong emphasis on parts of speech and introducing diagramming early on. Dictionary skills are also covered every year. Many other English curriculum options for elementary and junior high may not teach those skills at all or in the same way, which means your student will not perform as well on the test. Similarly, with math, the multiplication facts are taught and expected to be mastered in level 4. If a child hasn’t memorized the facts, he will do poorly on the level 4 math and beyond.

If you intend to stick with the ACE curriculum long term, then your student will benefit from getting a strong foundation at a lower level and then moving on from level to level each year. The PACE curriculum is designed to cycle through the same content from year to year, like a spiral, adding more challenging applications and new material. If the curriculum seems “too easy”, then I want you to read my article about that common concern.

Here’s an article with a video that talks more about interpreting the Diagnostic Test, especially for middle school students and older teens:

Should I try to catch him up to grade level?

If he is more than 2 levels behind . . .

You as a parent KNOW your own child. If he struggles or has a learning disability, then don’t be concerned about the level matching or being close to the expected chronological grade level. I know of a child with Down’s Syndrome who worked through the PACES and finished at age 18 at PACE 1084 in most subjects. For her that was fine! She had been working at “her level” all along and making sustained progress.

On the other hand, if your child is average or above and just tested low on the Diagnostic test, here’s what I would recommend. Do 3-4 gap PACES as prescribed, then do 9 of the “core” PACES at the next full level, even if that is 2 or 3 levels behind their expected chronological grade. By that I mean, you could look at the Scope and Sequence and probably skip a few PACES in English, for instance, that cover really easy topics or letter writing skills. But do all the PACES that teach parts of speech, verb tenses, and probably punctuation rules, as those need the most reinforcement. THEN at the end of the year, do the Diagnostic Test again and your child will likely test much closer to grade level and you can confidently place her one level behind chronological or at the expected grade level and see success at completing all 12 PACES the next year.

If she is one level behind . . .

If your child is working one level behind chronological grade level, but is being somewhat challenged while also seeing success, then let her stay at that level. I have had teens (including one of my own sons) finish high school by doing level 1121-1132 English in 12th grade. They earned a full credit every year they were in high school by completing 12 English PACES “at their level.” Do not feel pressured to have to finish to PACE 1144 in everything. See my article about earning credits in high school toward graduation and my caveat for international students and umbrella school students below.

Some practical tips

  • It is unreasonable in my opinion to expect a child to do more than 15 PACES per subject in a year. Twelve is the normal plan. By doing an extra 2 pages per day, your child could do 3-4 gap PACES and a full level in one year if that were needed. But don’t try to push much harder than that or you will discourage both your child and yourself.
  • You could conceivably start anywhere and do 12 PACES consecutively and have that count for one year’s worth of work for that subject, but that can get messy for record-keeping purposes.
  • At some point – I would suggest by 7th or 8th grade – you should be on a plan to do the 12 PACES that make up one normal level of work. For instance, maybe at the end of 6th grade your child is still at PACE 1068. I would find a way to do some “summer school” or work together to finish through 1072 before the new school year starts. Then for the 7th grade year do the “normal 7th level” of 1073-1084.
  • It is easier to order all the PACES and score keys for an entire level than to be out of sync with everything. However, if your child needs to be doing all of Level 6 for English, Level 7 for Math, and Level 8 for Science and Social Studies, that’s perfectly fine, as pointed out above. Again, that’s the beauty of this curriculum system – your child works at HIS level.
  • Quick note about Word Building – it is recommended that you keep the Word Building PACES in sync with the English level.
  • Do not work ABOVE your child’s chronological grade level. This is my recommendation for two very practical reasons. Even if the Diagnostic test says your child could work at a higher level, it may get very challenging and discouraging. This will especially be evident when your elementary age student tries to tackle the 7th & 8th level work. You want your child to be successful and able to work confidently and make steady progress. The other factor is that the curriculum comes to an end with PACE 1144 so if your teen gets there in 11th grade, what will you do for 12th grade curriculum? If your teen needs an extra challenge, consider expanding outward rather than charging forward – include honors courses, electives, projects, and a lot more required reading to slow her down a bit.

The one caveat I need to mention is that if you are enrolled in an umbrella school or working toward an international certificate program then the agency you are responsible to may set a higher standard, like requiring your teen to finish to PACE 1144 in everything.  You can always discuss these requirements with your academic adviser and see if there’s any room for flexibility.

I hope this “common sense” article will put your mind at ease, let you know you are not alone in feeling panicked, and settle in on an educational plan that is best for YOUR child!



3 Comments to “My Child is “Behind” – what should I do?”

  1. A lot of great points here!

  2. One of my sons doesn’t mesh well with school work. We just told him, “Wherever you are in the curriculum when you’re old enough to graduate is how far you need to be.” We’ve really tried to take the pressure off of him and he’s so much happier. In Math, we require him to work for 30 minutes a day, whether that means he finishes 4 problems or 4 pages. It’s at his own pace. We’ve always used ACE, but I felt I was pushing him faster than he was comfortable. We started this year having all the kids do the diagnostic tests and when they come to a PACE they needed to do, we’d stop the diagnostic (paper version), do that PACE and then return to the diagnostic. We’ve found a few gaps for each of the kids that they worked through. When they find that there are several PACEs in a row that they can’t pass on the diagnostic, we say we’ve found their “confidence level” and that’s where we settle in. I decided to order one of every PACE this year (except for 11th and 12th level since none of the kids are that old yet) so no matter what someone needs to do, I’ve got the PACE on hand. At the end of each term, I reorder what we’ve used. I think I’ll keep doing that until the last child starts school. I’ll just stop reordering then and use up the inventory. We just had our 9th baby last month so I’ve got a lot of years of homeschooling ahead still!

  3. This is very helpful. We’re in the process of taking the diagnostic tests, and my almost 8th grade daughter has 5 or 6 gaps in 7th level. I would much rather have her do the whole level than be out of sync, but I was wondering if 8th level English would still count as 9th grade English the next year. This answered my question very well! Looking forward to going back to Paces next year. We enjoyed it, and stepping away for a year has reinforced the fact that we do much better using them as a large homeschooling family.

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