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Special Education/Instruction and assessment of a child at a grade level other than his grade level placement


QUESTION: This came up at our recent IEP meeting and I would like to understand the short term and long term repercussions of such a decision when this box becomes ticked on the IEP. When a child gets Instruction and assessment at a grade level other than his grade level placement, how does this affects his transition to MS and HS? My son is in 4th grade at the moment. I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea but would like to understand further the repercussions of it.
1. Does the child ever manage to catch up?
2. How does this get carried over to MS and HS?
3. Any other things I should be made aware of (academically or legally?)

Many thanks for everyone's feedback or experience in this , good or bad.

ANSWER: Dear Lama,

Thank you so much for writing to me and asking an important question about off-grade level instruction.  In Maryland, the IEP contains an attachment which indicates whether the child will be working on grade level, on grade level with accommodation, or off grade level.  

There are two concepts that hold hands in this determination.  First, the is the concept of the child learning and accessing curriculum.  Then, there is the concept of the child's skill level, and how to teach the child the skills needed in the IEP.  

I will try to give you a concrete example.  First, let's look at the curriculum in Maryland for fourth grade language arts.

Let's say that your child's reading comprehension is at the first grade level.  But in the curriculum, there are fourth grade level texts.  The IEP can accommodate the child's weaknesses, by providing accommodations and supplementary aides and services.  For example, maybe your child can listen to the text or have the text laid out in pictures. Then, the child would not have to be using 4th grade reading skills in order to tell what came first, middle and last in the story.  So despite a child's actual skill level, the curriculum must be taught.  This is the case when the child is receiving a diploma, and grade level curriculum with accommodations.  This decision of the team is on the first few pages in the IEP.

Then, also, your child may be receiving special education to work on bringing his reading level up from the first grade.  Specialized instruction and an evidence based reading program may be in place, daily, for example.  So your child is working on both curriculum and skill development.  

Access to the curriculum is what is important moving from grade to grade.  In high school, there are a range of options of diploma outcomes, classes, levels of support and time in high school, but overall, the child must meet graduation requirements which will include learning the curriculum with and without accommodations.  Then in college, accommodations are also provided.  

If your child is, however, not on the diploma track, and is scheduled to receive a certificate, then the child is not in the general curriculum, but instead is on a functional life skills, alternate, curriculum, then the requirement for curriculum is not applicable.  The child will attend through high school and then receive a certificate of attendance.  

If you would like to consult with me, I am very familiar with MD systems and placement options.

I would be glad to look at your child's evaluations and IEP and show you the implications of the content of the IEP.

Please feel free to follow up with me.  Don't forget to check out my books:

Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book


School Success for Kids with Emotional Behavioral Disorders

I wish you all the best as you advocate for your child!  Thank you again for writing and using this valuable service!  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Thank you for your answer! This is very helpful. My child is on diploma track and would probably need to get instruction and assessment at a grade lower than his placement to access the curriculum, things in 4th grade have become quite complicated for him in what they refer to as language arts (reading, writing). I would like to know as a follow up to your reply, and my initial question:
1. If typically in MCPS those decisions are followed up upon when kids transition to Middle School (once the appropriate program has been determined) or whether the program then at the MS will determine what the child needs or not, in a sense I am asking if it would be automatic that my child will transition to MS with that box ticked on his IEP, or whether the MS will look into that again.
2. Also does MCPS have success stories in this, where students able to catch up at some point with appropriate support? And does the system allow for the gap in terms of number of grades below actual placement to get narrower? (if the child starts by being 2 grades below, can he get to the point of only one grade below or does the system not allow for that?)
Many thanks

Hello, and thank you again for writing to me!

The determination of the curriculum and the decisions of the team are made at the annual review, at least once per year.  This includes up through high school.  The decision should be based on the child's strengths and needs, and data for the IEP.

Yes, there have been many children I've seen make excellent progress.  I am not sure what you mean when you ask if the system allows for the child to get closer to grade level.  I would say that is one goal of the IEP and special education services.  But again, a child with poor skills can still access the curriculum with the use of accommodations, technology and other supports.  But I would say yes, in general, the system does allow for this.  

There are many areas that we could discuss and the answer may be different depending on the area.  For example, there are different areas of reading:  vocabulary, comprehension, decoding, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency.  A child can have peaks or strengths, and valleys, or weaknesses in one or more of these.  Then, a child may also have problems in the area of communication or behavior.  So each area should have data collection, and the team will make decisions about the data that will be collected for progress monitoring.  Unless the goals in the IEP are very specific, many parents struggle with not knowing if the child is really improving and making meaningful progress.  So I encourage very tightly crafted goals with clear data points to help avoid confusion.

I hope I have answered your follow up!  Best to you as you advocate for your child!  Please feel free to write me again.  Thanks again for using this service!

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.


I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.


10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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