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06 July 2008 @ 12:26 am
On Writing (Resources): The American School System  
The classification and organization of school systems are arbitrary, and the American system is no exception. It has different options for how Elementary, Middle/Junior-High and High Schools are grouped, and certain grades have special labels. This resource is intended to help non-Americans become acquainted with some of the terminology for American schools, and to match student ages to the appropriate grades.

It is not meant to be comprehensive for all possibilities in various parts of the U.S., but to provide some general guidelines.

The American School System


American schools usually have a "cutoff deadline," meaning that a child must meet the minimum age by a certain date. That varies from place-to-place; it might be the start of the school year in one city, October 1st, November 1st, November 15th, or some other date. It is rarely earlier than September or later than mid-November. The school ages below are the age children typically are AFTER meeting the cutoff deadline:

Kindergarten (optional in some areas) is for ages 5-6
First grade => ages 6-7
Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth grade progress from there (the math is left to the reader). These are referred to as "XX Grade" and not "Grade XX."

There is some vagueness about how certain grades are grouped in various types of schools, depending on the school district:

* Kindergarten (or First Grade) through Eighth Grade is one form of Elementary School (also called Grade School)
* Kindergarten (or First Grade) through Sixth Grade is another, which is followed by Middle School (7th and 8th grade, sometimes also 9th grade). A grade 7-8 or 7-9 school is sometimes also called Junior High.
* Kindergarten (First Grade) through Fifth Grade is the last type, with Middle School then being 6th, 7th and 8th grade. (if there is a 6th grade in it, this school will never be called a Junior High)

High School is either 10th-12th grade OR 9th-12th grade, depending. These grades have alternate names in high school:
9th Grade => Freshman (except when at Middle School, where it's just 9th grade)

10th Grade => Sophomore

11th Grade => Junior

12th Grade => Senior


These designations repeat for colleges/universities, i.e., first year of college is Freshman year, last year is Senior year.

"Junior" or "Community" College: this is two-year institution that some students go to instead of regular college, typically due to poor grades or lack of money (or both), or not yet being certain what they want to do with their lives (in or out of college). More recently, students frequently choose to go to Junior/Community College to get their General Educational Requirements out of the way at a cheaper price, and then transfer the credits to a four-year institution (thus lowering the total cost of obtaining Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college/university).

Additional notes: Americans graduate from a grade or institution, and receive grades (not 'marks') on their homework. Someone with good grades has a good chance of going to college.

Wikipedia may offer more details on any of the subsections of this listing, and there is a LiveJournal community called little_details where you can ask questions about specific cutoff dates and school groupings for a particular U.S. region or city.


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Helen W.wneleh on July 6th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)
It is rarely later than mid-November.

Just a little more data:

In at least parts of NY; the 500,000-resident county I'm from in MD; and the town next to mine, the cutoff is Dec. 31. On the other end, we have friends in Ohio who live in a July 31 cutoff district.

A popular way to get around the cut-off is to find a private school who will admit children younger than the public school cut-off. Once the child has completed first grade, the public system will (usually?) admit them into the next grade no matter how young they are.

It's pretty popular to delay entry into kindergarten for children who seem young-for-age, especially in upper-middle-class families, even when the children test well within, or even high for, age norms.

- - - -

And, the roll of community colleges varies. In some places, they're what everyone does who isn't focused on an elite college; in other places, they are a lot more remedial. They're also a good entre into higher education for recent immigrants (i.e., those without much money, like VHS said - but also, who might not be eligible for financial aid.)

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 6th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons I listed ranges was to give some idea of what they might be-- I'm not sure that Americans will flip over a detail of their personal region, but something like "John graduated seventh form" is a red-flag annoyance.

It's pretty popular to delay entry into kindergarten for children who seem young-for-age, especially in upper-middle-class families, even when the children test well within, or even high for, age norms.
Yes-- not sure whether I should slip that in. This isn't meant to cover all the bases, but to provide some general guidelines for people who really don't know how the system-- countrywide, in a general sense-- works at all.

My son was one of those who was young-for-age (still is), but had to go into Kindergarten with his late-Aug birthday because he was too smart to hold back. We'd just hoped his teacher wouldn't kill him in those first years until he matured a little. Urk.

In some places, they're what everyone does who isn't focused on an elite college; in other places, they are a lot more remedial.
I tried to make that clear the first time, but I've edited a little bit. They used to serve very clear functions and had negative academic connotations, but people are much more clever these days about their reasons for choosing a community college (often only in the short-term). They can be very useful for a lot of different reasons.
Helen W.wneleh on July 6th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
Sorry for going all pedantic!

I'm a lot more intense about school stuff than fandom, but keep it off of LJ.