What Are The Different Levels Of The Education System In The USA?

In the USA, there are four levels of education: elementary school, middle school, high school and college.

The first three levels are all compulsory (you must attend), but only about half of people make it to college.   The level you’ll likely be enrolled in will depend on your age and whether or not you have a disability that qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). For more information about what is offered at each level, see below!

Early Childhood Education

Early education is a term used to talk about young children being exposed to education.  There are two different ways to expose young kids to education. The first is through preschool, which is a program designed to be open before and after school (depending on the school’s schedule).

Educational programs at this level are usually geared towards children 3-5 years old. They teach different topics like counting, letters, colors, shapes and more informal things about how big or small we are as compared with things around us.

The second way that early education happens for young kids is through kindergarten. Kindergarten prepares them for elementary school by teaching them some of the fundamentals of learning such as print awareness, letter recognition and phonemic awareness (learning sounds that make up words).

Elementary School

Once children reach 6 years old, they are usually enrolled in elementary school. In the USA, there is no such thing as a “kindergarten only” program – you must be at least 6 years old to start first grade.

Elementary school offers many different options to its students and is very state dependent. What this means is that what happens in one state may not happen in another. A student going through an elementary education program can expect to learn about language arts (reading/writing), math, science and social studies (geography).  Some schools offer foreign languages like Spanish, French or even Chinese for those interested in learning other languages!

High school

Once students reach 12 years old, they graduate from the elementary level of education. They are required to stay enrolled in school, but they have the option of either staying at the elementary level or moving on to middle school.

Most high schools enroll their students in 9th grade and older. Some schools enroll all students into 10th grade without having a specific grade requirement. This is mostly up to what a student wants for themselves and where their interests lie.  Usually there are class requirements that need to be met once you’re enrolled in high school (like 4 years of English) that can be fulfilled through an online program if necessary.

Depending on which state a student lives in, they may or may not have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). When students reach 12 years old, they meet with a team of people who will determine what the best fit is for them. This may be through an IEP, school transfer or staying where they are.

College Education

Special features of education in USA
After high school comes college. College has multiple areas of focus:

  • Community college
  • Vocational/trade school
  • Four-year colleges and universities

Usually students start at their local community college and once they’ve satisfied all requirements there to earn their associate’s degree (an AA), then move on to other options. Distance learning programs are also popular amongst some students because it allows them to work full time while still completing classes that will eventually lead to a bachelor’s degree (BA).

Academic grading in the United States

Letter Grade Percentage GPA
A 90–100 % 4
B 80–89 % 3
C 70–79 % 2
D 60–69 % 1


How will schools place my child?

School placement in the American education system depends on what grade a child is in or whether they have special needs.

  • Kindergarten and first-grade students go to elementary school (or primary education). The highest level of schooling that an elementary student may complete is the sixth grade. Children who have not learned how to read at the end of their third year are held back in their school class until they are able to learn this skill, usually between ages 7–10 years old.
  • Middle-school children are taught up to eight grades of curriculum: seventh and eighth grades as well as four grades of ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth levels.
  • Students enrolling into a middle school must be aged between 10 – 13 years old depending on local laws. After completing middle school, students will either continue into high school or they have the option to enroll in a technical, vocational, or general education program.
  • High-school level education (or secondary education) is for ages 14–19.

A common misconception is that American universities only offer four years of education for all subjects; this is not true! The United States has a wide range of colleges and universities that each offer different courses and degrees based on the style of studies you are planning to follow. A great tool to use when choosing your course of study as well as scholarships available in any specific field can be found online at College Board.  All levels of college also require admissions testing like SATs (School Aptitude Test) or ACTs (Achievement Tests). The deadline for these tests is usually in the early fall months so be sure to check with your school counselor when you are enrolling.

There are several four-year colleges that also offer an additional year of education in which students can specialize their degree into a specific field at no extra charge to them. This option allows the student to get a head-start on college life and learn more about a specific topic before they graduate from college. Four year schools have many different names, but most commonly they are called “junior colleges” or “community colleges” both of which offer an Associate Degree upon graduation.

Some students will follow an alternative route to college and pursue a two-year degree program in which they will then enter the work force with specific skills. These programs are typically called “technical schools” and offer certificates or Associate degrees upon completion.

How Does The School Decide Which Class Level My Child Takes?

First, your child’s grade level is mainly determined by their current age.

  • K-2 – Kindergarten and First Grade (Elementary)
  • 3 – 5– Third and Fourth Grade (Middle School)
  • 6 – 8 or 12 – Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grades (High School/Secondary)
  • 9 – 11 – Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Grades (High School/Secondary)

Children are usually placed in a specific course to begin as soon as they start the new academic year because it takes time for them to be adjusted into their surroundings. For example: In a child’s first year of kindergarten, they will take the Iowa Tests at the end of the year. Based on the findings of these tests, your child may be placed in a regular classroom for second grade or special services; however, many times this is not made clear until October when teachers are assigned to classrooms. If your child falls under special need guidance he/she will most likely attend special education classes that meet certain guidelines set by the state and federal government.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as FERPA, gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when they reach the age of 18 or attend a school beyond the high school level. FERPA allows parents to inspect and review all educational records related to your child that are kept by your child’s school.

These records include: academic reports, transcripts of grades (or other work completed), omissions from class(es), disciplinary actions, medical information on eating disorders etc., psychological tests administered by a licensed psychologist used in grade determinations; letters relating to misconduct, health matters, pregnancy, etc. FERPA also specifically addresses the confidentiality of “educational” records which are defined as those records that contain information directly related to a student and maintained by an educational institution.

Under the law, schools must have written permission from the parent to release any information from educational records. There is one exception: if the school determines that it has evidence of child abuse or neglect it may release information without parental consent including names and addresses of students in appropriate cases; this includes cases where parents do not agree with disciplinary measures taken against their children for breaking rules.

Online High School Course Offerings

Join the education system in USA today online from anywhere in the world
There are many high school courses that you can teach your child online through various programs that give them a certificate from a school district upon completion of an entire course. These programs, such as my High School of America’s programs, offer exceptional educational content and experiences for children ranging in age from 5 to 17 years old. Because these are online classes they do not require attendance at any physical location and therefore can be completed anytime 24 hours per day 7 days a week! Best of all…the curriculum is designed by experts in education and the class has been pre-approved by every public/private board approved school district in North America making it easy for students to use their own high school credits to secure their senior year diploma!

College Prep Online – Dual Enrollment

If you live in a state that offers Dual Enrollment, where high school students can enroll in college courses, you should consider High School of America (HSOA) which offers the best online dual enrollment programs. There is also an excellent program provided by HSOA called “College Prep Online”. These classes are offered as an additional class with your child’s regular curriculum sent to their teacher at their current high school or through private tutoring centers. If your student took this course, he could receive college credit that is accepted by public/private universities and colleges throughout America!

We offer ACCREDITED online high schools courses including: Math Courses, English Courses, History Courses, Science and Technology Courses, Special Education Courses, and even courses for home school students. These are part of the High School of America’s high school diploma program! We can offer you a certificate of your own at no cost after completing the whole course! Make sure to ask about our SPECIAL OFFER where we will give you an affordable online high school diploma program.

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