Making the Cut: How to Decide if a Student is Ready for the Next Level

Friday, May 2, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

This is the time when guidance counselors and program administrators start making their plans for next year. How many students are being promoted? Where do they go? How many teachers will we need next year?

Before the numbers are run, they often come to current teachers to ask their opinion on certain students or even a whole class. Most are obvious, but there are some students that are right on the border between staying at their current level or moving up to advanced, honors, magnet, etc. How do you decide?

First, it’s not the grades or assessment scores. Guidance has that information already. If the kid was clear-cut one way or the other, they wouldn’t be asking about them. Most advanced programs have a GPA requirement anyway. No, this is purely subjective.


First and foremost, in order to be successful in an advanced program a student needs to be mature beyond their years. The work expected of them will be more rigorous, not just in sheer volume but also in complexity. If this kid cracks in the first grading period, they just wasted a spot from another deserving student.

Think back to a time when an extra amount was expected of the student. Perhaps it was additional homework or an added revision cycle on a paper. Did they whine and fuss or did they put their head down and got to work? If it was the latter, move them up.


Keeping all of that extra work straight requires organizational skills and responsibility. If they don’t crack under the volume, they might crack just because they start forgetting things. Again, a wasted spot.

This is a place where grades can help. Look back through your records for an assignment or project where very little handholding occurred on your part, or perhaps only periodic milestones. You gave the students parameters and they ran with it. How did this student do?

Parental involvement

Some people might consider this measure unfair, and perhaps it shouldn’t have as much weight as the previous two, but it’s something to consider. Advanced programs sometimes require an added level of parental involvement. Even if it’s not required, a student in such a program needs a parent that’s paying attention. If they crack, the parent can step in and right the ship before it’s too late.

This one is easy to measure: how responsive was the parent to you throughout the year? Did they respond to your e-mails/phone calls/texts? Would they reach out to you if they had questions? Where they available for conferences? If they couldn’t cut it at your level, they certainly won’t at the next. Some students are so mature and independent that they don’t need their parents’ help so much, but chances are a kid like that has already made the cut without you being asked about them.