How and Where to Place a Student in 1stStep/CTT
1st Step is what we used to
call our Starter and Elementary Program. Starter is
for ages 5-6, and for students who are preliterate.
Elementary is for students ages 7-8, and for students who
are developing literacy.
We also provide Lower School for ages 9-10
and Upper School is for ages 11-adult.
The only "overlaps" we recommend would happen 1)
if a student was not able to read well enough to do the
courses for their age group, in which case they might start
at the next lower level, or 2) if the student reads too well
for their level, at which point the student might start at
the next higher level.
Wherever a student starts (excluding
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Upper School), the student does as much of that level as is
needed for them to solidly gain the abilities and
understandings that level provides, in terms of both subject
matter and literacy. The next level up will generally cover
some of the same ideas, but will also cover new ideas, old
ideas with more detail and depth, as well as elevated
challenges to the student's reading and thinking.
We want each student to move up to the next level
as soon as they are able. There is no reason for a
student to stay at a level to "complete" it!
The only level a student should finish no matter what is
Upper School. This is not to say that a student won't
get tremendous benefits from doing any level of CTT - they
certainly will. And if they're having fun, let them
stay with a level until they want to move to harder
Let me provide you a few examples.
Let's say your 8 year-old Elementary child does Elementary
curricula for about 1 year (two semesters), and then does
the Reading Test for Lower School successfully at that time.
Rather than do the second year of Elementary, what I would
suggest is moving your student up to Lower School, the next
level up. Upper School would probably be too hard. Staying
at Elementary when ready for a move up would bore the
student. That's why we created Lower School - as a
bridge from studies structured for young students and
students who are developing literacy, into more challenging,
adult studies. (And yes, 11 year-olds can study the
same materials college students study - using CTT's approach
Let's say you have a 9 year-old who struggles with
reading. There are two ways we might address that
issue. 1) We might ask the student to do Elementary
studies, easier to read than Lower School, but rich with
ideas and in ways to develop language skills. Or 2) we
might ask the student to work more closely with a tutor on
Lower School (usually not, though), and have the
tutor/parent/teacher assist with the reading chores.
This is less of a solution because it does not allow the
student to own their own education, or to succeed on their
And after all, education is not a race. Every
child should achieve full and profound results, acquire
skills and understandings that they can use in life,
and generally expand in ability and in their view of
life. So who cares if a child "graduates" at
age 13, or age 20?! Again, it's not a race - it's
preparation to live a happy, successful, interesting
The idea is to place the student initially where he or she
can win but are still challenged. Then we want to move
them up to the next level of difficulty as soon as their
skills and perception allow, and testing demonstrates that
they're ready. Except for Upper School, completion of
a level is simply not that important unless it's something
the student really wants to do.
In CTT, placement of a student is not really a function of
age. It is rather more about literacy, which is why sample
lessons are provided on
our site for every course, and reading tests are made
available with sample lessons, for each level above Starter.
The student should start where their literacy permits.
At any time in their CTT studies, the student should study
at the level his/her literacy permits. If at any time
it becomes clear that a student is ready to jump up, that
Please note - there is no reading test for Starter
(ages 5-6), as this level is for preliterate students.
A fairly literate 5-6 year-old can certainly do Starter,
though, as described in the courses, and will be allowed to
To use our Elementary (ages 7--8, and for student developing
literacy) free Reading Test, composed of lessons from this
level, to determine if this is the right level for your
student, click here.
use our free Lower School Reading Test (usually ages 9-10),
made of sample lesson plans from the level, to determine if
this is the right level forr your student, click here.
use our free Upper School Reading Test (usually ages
11-adult), made up of sample lesson plans from Upper School,
to determine if this is the right level for your student,
As a rule, I would
ask a child to skip an entire level as you'd be setting
them up for likely loses. It would be a bit like skipping,
say, elementary school and going straight to Jr. High (or
Middle School). Most students would not survive such a
maneuver well. Each level is constructed to help prepare
the student for the next level up.
But if you have that extraordinary student who handles
the reading test for a higher level, and who has the
maturity to deal with more "serious" and detailed
material, I would not stop them from doing so. If you
have a 9 year-old (say) who can handle Upper School courses,
let them have at it. But be ready to provide Lower
School as an option if things don't quite work out.
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