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The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-Based Program

When you purchase a language arts program, whether you realize it or not, you have a choice to make. Do you place your child according to grade level, or do you place your child according to ability?

Your decision will play a significant role in whether your child experiences success or frustration and failure.

As you ponder the purchase of reading or spelling curriculum for your child, consider the differences between grade-level-based programs and mastery-based programs. 

First, let’s take a quick look at the grade-level choice.

Why Isn’t a Grade-Level Program Best for My Child?

Let me explain it this way.

My dog Bea is three years old. She has participated in agility classes, and she loves running through the tunnels and weaving through the bars.

My friend’s dog is also three years old. Buffy has taken basic obedience classes, but she has never seen a tunnel or weaving bars before.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

Would you put both dogs in the same agility class?

Of course not. Bea—with her natural aptitude and previous experience—is ready for the more advanced Level 2 class, but Buffy belongs in the Level 1 beginner’s class.

What would happen if you put both dogs in a Level 2 class? Buffy would likely fail because she would never be able to perform at the same level as dogs who have already mastered the Level 1 course.

So what does all that have to do with kids and curriculum? Let’s connect the dots.

Some people might say, “My ten-year-old is in third grade, so I need the third grade spelling book for him.” But we would never say, “Bea and Buffy are both three years old; they should be in the same agility class.” So here’s a question for you: If you wouldn’t expect a dog to skip the Level 1 course and go straight to the Level 2 course, why would you expect a child to?

Maybe it’s time to rethink how we place our children in reading and spelling programs.

After all …

Age Is Just a Number

The story of Bea and Buffy illustrates that age and grade aren’t reliable indicators of which level you should place a dog (or a child) in. Common sense tells us that since not all ten-year-olds have the same educational background, they probably don’t have the same reading or spelling ability either.

For example, some ten-year-olds can easily spell words like pigeon and partridge, while others may still be trying to grasp the idea that the letter G can make different sounds in different situations. Some ten-year-olds can spell circles around most adults, while others have their parents shaking their heads in dismay at their spelling struggles.

It really doesn’t matter whether the differences are the result of natural ability or previous teaching. The fact is, your child is very likely functioning at a different reading and spelling level than her friends. And it would be unfair to force your child and her friends all into the same level just because they are the same age.

Age is never the best indicator of academic ability, so let’s consider these five compelling reasons to opt for a mastery-based program instead.

5 Reasons Mastery-Based Programs Are Better for Dogs (and for Kids!)

Mastery-based curriculum makes learning easier by placing high priority on five important elements. Let’s take a closer look at these five elements and how we apply them in our curriculum.

Your child is placed according to ability so that the program can meet your child right where she is.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

As we illustrated earlier, a mastery-based program lets you focus on your child’s ability instead of on her age or grade level. That’s why we have your child take a placement test before beginning All About Reading or All About Spelling. This sets your child up for success by allowing instruction to meet her right where she is.

You are free to introduce new material at whatever pace is best for your child.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

A mastery-based program teaches at your child’s pace instead of at a rigid pace set by a curriculum. All About Reading and All About Spelling help you pace your lessons so the material is efficiently learned and effectively retained, setting the stage for long-term learning. This gradual, incremental approach respects your child’s developmental level and allows her to slow down or speed up as needed. Anna Gillingham, one of the founders of the Orton-Gillingham approach, put it this way: “Go as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.”

Consistent review makes learning “stick.”

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

The goal of mastery-based lessons is to make sure that learning “sticks”—that the brain is able to permanently store, manage, and retrieve information for later use. It’s the “sticking” part that matters. Concepts that are forgotten are not mastered. Simply put, long-term learning should be the main goal of your teaching. In All About Reading and All About Spelling, we help you accomplish that goal by building daily practice and cumulative review into every single lesson. That way, you never have to worry about whether you’re doing enough.

With mastery-based programs, there are no gaps.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

Nothing brings long-term learning to a screeching halt like encountering missing bits of knowledge. It’s essential in mastery-based learning that no knowledge gaps exist. Then as you teach new skills and provide practice and review, you also monitor your child’s progress so you know he’s really learning. This continual process of teaching, monitoring, and offering feedback is necessary to ensure that no gaps surface down the road.

Your child moves on to the next level only after the content has been mastered.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

This is an area where mastery-based programs really differ from grade-level programs.

Completing a grade is not the same thing as mastering a level. In a grade-level program, when your child completes Grade 6, he moves on to Grade 7 regardless of whether he has mastered the content in Grade 6. Just imagine the miserable cycle of defeat and frustration that this can create for you and your child. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a mastery-based program, your child moves on to the next level only after he has mastered the content in the previous level.

Main Differences between Grade-Level and Mastery-Based Lessons

The video below summarizes the differences between the two approaches.

You May Have to Buck the System

The concept of a mastery-based program may be new to you and to those around you. After all, it is so “normal” to place your child according to age or grade. But there are so many factors other than age—including experience, innate ability, and opportunity—that contribute to where a child is academically. Just as we wouldn’t expect a ten-year-old to perform at the same music or athletic level as every other ten-year old, we shouldn’t use age as a way to determine placement in a spelling program.

When you teach a child at her instructional level, she can blossom! And you can relish the fact that you are providing long-term learning.

The Bottom Line on Mastery-Based Curriculum

Every child is more than just her “grade” or numerical age. A child’s unique experiences and aptitude play an important role in where she should be placed in terms of ability.

That’s why All About Reading and All About Spelling are mastery-based programs that:

  • Place your child according to ability
  • Teach your child at his or her pace
  • Use consistent review to achieve permanent learning
  • Have carefully sequenced lessons with no gaps
  • Progress to the next level only after mastery is achieved

If you’re ready to buck the system and experience the amazing progress your child can make when she’s working at the right ability level, be sure to check out our curriculum! And if you ever need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

What has been your experience with mastery-based lessons versus grade-level lessons? Do you have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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Rashmi

says:

My daughter just turned 3 and is showing interest in reading. I met a mom who does homeschooling and she suggested All about reading. I was still worried whether it’s too early to start on a program, this post helped me in understanding that I can start now and need not hurry. This program can be finished when she feels comfortable:)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rashmi,
This Readiness Checklist for our Pre-reading level can help you determine if your child is ready to begin now, or would benefit from a bit more maturity. Our Pre-reading level was developed with 4 and 5 year old children in mind, but many 3 year olds have done very well with it. And, as you mention, taking it as slowly as she needs to go is a great approach.

You may also enjoy our blog posts, many that include free downloads, about teaching preschoolers.

Susan

says:

I love this program. My daughter was in pre-K and the teacher wanted the class to memorize sight words. My daughter never could do it. She saw all of her friends recite the list and get prizes. She would come home so discouraged. At 4.5 years old, she asked me why everyone could remember the words except her and was something wrong with her. It was then I decided to homeschool. I researched curricula to death. I Found this program and started her on level 1. This program has been such a huge blessing for us. She has about 15 lessons left in level 1 and has started zooming through! She is really doing well. She is SO happy with herself. She is so incredibly proud and wants to show off her reading skills to anybody willing to listen. I can not tell you how that makes this Momma’s heart feel to see her so confident in herself again! I just wanted to say thank you to the All About Learning team for their constant support and wonderful program!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Susan,
I am so sorry to hear your daughter was discouraged about reading at such a very young age. Poor thing! I am very happy that her discouragement is a thing of the past now and she is so confident! Thank you for sharing this.

Sherry

says:

Our homeschool is built on mastery-based programs in all subjects. If the program is not geared toward mastery learning I don’t buy it, or I tweak it to work for our goals. This program is working for my daughter and she looks forward to it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sherry,
It’s great to hear that our program fits so well with your homeschool philosophy, and that your daughter looks forward to it so much!

Crystal

says:

This makes a lot of sense. Thanks

Stephanie

says:

Ditching grade levels is so important for those struggling readers! I have an almost 8 year old and a 5 year old both in AAR 1. The older went through once and now again, because apparently she needed more practice than I gave her the first time. She’s learning, though, it just takes awhile for it to stick for her. Little brother just started, but we’ll see how they handle it if he catches up to her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Stephanie,
My daughter had to repeat All About Reading 1 as well, but it paid off and she is no in AAR 3 and reading beginning chapter books in her free time.

Jamie Wilkins

says:

We are having so much fun with Spelling now! Our daughter (4th grade homeschooler) can do some awsome crazy math in her head, but the poor thing just wasn’t connecting things for spelling. We were told that the spelling program is mastery based and outlines the rules of spelling. This is what math thinkers need! We are loving the program for its simplicity and ease of understanding, too!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jamie,
As a mathy person, and mom of mathy people, I completely understand! If your daughter is anything like my children, there will be times in All About Spelling when complaints about “English should just have one way to spell anything,” will be uttered. Overall, though, it is a great fit for students like ours.

In-shaallah

says:

I have a child in my class who is 5years who can hardly read,
We are doing everything possible but it looks as if
the parents too are not helping in any way. I have invited them couple of times but still. His doing well in
Other areas but in language no.what can I do to help him?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

5 years old is very young, and it is not uncommon for a 5 year old to not be reading. Work with him with phonograms, and have him read books that 100% decodable.

Without knowing in what teaching in reading he has had so far, and without knowing what he is struggling with, I cannot give more specific suggestions.

Sheri Matheny

says:

Thank you for this article. Can’t wait for my son to master spelling permanently! Not just memorize words temporarily.

Renae

says:

Your analogies used in the articles are always helpful. I appreciate that the lessons in AAR are not per day but rather a mindset of “move on when your child is ready.”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Renae,
Thank you for letting us know that our analogies are helpful. Sometimes it’s hard to hit upon the right analogy to make your point clear, so it’s great to know we are being successful!

I love the analogy of dog training! Our schools are so grade-level based, but for many students, they need a different approach!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Jennifer.

Ashley

says:

We have just recently started with AAR level 2. We are very pleased with it so far, and look forward to continuing with the program.

The ability to use a mastery-based approach for my kids was fundamental in our decision to homeschool. We have used All About Spelling all the way through with 2 children so far and just started with a third. Both older children love spelling and found the methods painless and fun. They are both excellent spellers.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristin,
Thank you for letting us know how well All About Spelling has worked for your family. It’s great to hear from those that have used AAS all the way through!

Katherine Hubert

says:

AAS is helping us fill a number of gaps in my 11 year old’s spelling knowledge. We have started all the way back in level one so that we can learn the rules from the beginning.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katherine,
This is great! No gaps learning makes for the best progress.

Mary Francis

says:

I use AAR and AAS with both my kids and they love it. It’s fun, engaging and teaches a lot of thing without the stress of being bored

Shawnelle Davis

says:

I have used level one and 2 of AAR and AAs and we love all the programs. Thank you for a simple yet multisensory approach. After homeschooling for 12 years and using many reading and spelling programs, your tops them all.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Shawnelle! Thank you for sharing your experienced opinion.

Vanessa

says:

Love All About Reading & All About Spelling!

Aleisha Bixler

says:

We love AAR and AAS!

Gloria

says:

My grand daughter is failing in 4th grade. She’s has struggled since first grade. However, I don’t have the option to homeschool her. Our schedule together is at least one hour 1x a week. Do you have any idea how I can make that hour useful using your material? Also is it possible to teach her while she is going to school and using your material?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gloria,
Please look to your email. There are a lot of considerations.

Jenny

says:

These programs can for sure help! I’ve heard the spelling you should spend about 15 minutes on and reading we spend no more than 20-30 minutes on at a time, just so that I don’t burn them out. It’s set up where you don’t have to finish a lesson a day, go at whatever pace you want. The teacher’s guide is VERY friendly, tells you exactly what to say and how to present it if you want that kind of help.

Anita Z

says:

I am doing All about Reading with my son and can already see a huge difference in his reading. We just started this year. I had been pushing grade level and love the idea of mastery. Very encouraging. Now I just need to know what to do after we finish Level 4 :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anita,
As you know, AAR 4 is the final level of the reading program. At the end of AAR 4, students have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words, though they may not know the meaning of all higher level words. Word attack skills include things like dividing words into syllables, making analogies to other words, sounding out the word with the accent on different word parts, recognizing affixes, etc…

So, after completing AAR 4, our recommendations are:

Read-read-read! Get your student hooked on an age-appropriate series. Subscribe to kid-friendly magazines, check out tons of books from the library, have him read instructions for games he wants to play.

Have the student keep reading aloud a little each day, and you can use all of the strategies that he has learned to help him decode unfamiliar words.

Set a daily reading time for your student to read for 30 minutes. Choose books that interest your student, both fiction and non-fiction. You can also choose books that correlate to other things you are studying, such as historical fiction or Usborne books that cover science topics. Possible sources:

Literature-based curriculum such as Sonlight
Resource books like Honey for a Child’s Heart
The 1000 Good Books List
Books for Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day

Make and use flashcards for review, as needed.

The study of Greek and Latin roots can be helpful.

Complete the All About Spelling program, which supports reading.

Keep reading aloud to to your student.

For most kids, reading and being read to are the best ways to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary. If you need or want to provide extra vocabulary support, Marie recommends Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel Beck (good for all ages).

I hope this helps!

Anne hatke

says:

We are loving tell AAR program! My daughter is learning so much and I know that she is retaining it. I love how everything is ready for teaching and introduces quotations and other elements that many kinds may not see until later in schoom

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anne,
Thank you for letting us know what you love about AAR!

Melea

says:

I love how the mastery based system has been working for my kids. It’s more personal to their ability.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melea,
Thank you. We appreciate hearing that our approach is working so well for your kids.

Tara Bailey

says:

I definitely think mastery based is the best way to give your child the best education possible.

Samantha

says:

I agree with this so much! This is the biggest reason we are homeschooling! My daughter is 6 1/2 but we are still working our way through level 1. She is learning at her speed.

Jessica H

says:

I absolutely love that AAR is mastery based and not grade level based! It has made all the difference in the world for us! So easy and open and go.

Jenny Challand

says:

I LOVE that I found your program. I was a public school teacher who was frustrated with our choices to teach our children in the district. But I didn’t have a big enough voice to change it in the school. When I had my own children, I immediately started researching for homeschool options. I think I sent Marie a message a good 2 years before I ever ordered (and you all are SO great at answering any question!) because my kids were still too young. As soon as they were old enough I was sooo excited to order. All About Learning Press impressed me SO much with my research for a mastery based reading program and I couldn’t wait to really test it out. A few years later, 3 kids using it, and I’m still impressed! Not only that, the kids BEG to do reading above any other subject. You have a customer and an advocate for your program for LIFE! Thank you for all the hard work and research that went into making this program what it is.

Pam Douglas

says:

Such a great example and analogy of this concept. Totally agree. Thank you for making that so clear.

Teaching at our children’s pace is a big reason we homeschool, and All About Reading fits right in!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We agree, Ashley!

Katherine Hubert

says:

My son is really starting to see and recognize spelling patterns. He reads at a high school level but is working through AAS1.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katherine,
Aww, these kids that read so advanced but struggle so greatly with spelling can be a confusing mix, huh? It’s great that he is starting to have success with spelling. Thanks for letting us know.

Christina C.

says:

We have been beyond relieved to find the AAR program! We will be sticking with it long term!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is great to hear, Christina!

Heather McKinney

says:

Love AAS! We stated last year and will he done next year (my son is 7th grade). Easy to teach!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for letting us know how quickly your older student is moving through AAS, Heather! It’s a question we often get, and it’s good to know our estimate seems to be accurate.

Lisa

says:

All 5 if my kids are doing really well with AAS. This is our first year using this curriculum and love it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Lisa!

Mindy

says:

Great information. Thanks!

Brenda

says:

We love all about spelling!!

Mel

says:

Thanks. Great article!

Dyann Powell

says:

We love your programs! Wish we found them sooner!

Jenna

says:

Love AAR and AAS!!!

Shelley

says:

Looking forward to starting AAS with my son. He is a self taught early reader so has never really articulated a lot of the “rules”. It will be interesting to go back over it all with him as he masters spelling. Not for a while though, he’s only 3 :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Shelley,
These early advanced readers sure keep mom on her toes, huh? Using AAS with children that learn to read without being taught is a great way to ensure their foundation in English is as strong as possible, without reteaching them what they already know. But not for a while, though. :D Consider AAS when he begins wanting to write all the time. That could be later this year, or three years for now. It’s hard to predict in these situations.

Melissa

says:

Thank you! My son is making progress at his own pace! So glad we don’t have to focus on “grade level.”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Melissa!

Drew

says:

Just started using AAS1. Love it!

Alecia

says:

We love this program!

Heather

says:

The program looks great!

Regan

says:

I have loved this program so far!

April

says:

This is such a wonderful program!

Melinda

says:

My son is doing very well using all about reading and all about spelling. It helps because he is 8 and in the first half of level 2 but he doesn’t associate being “behind grade level” becuase we don’t call it grade 1 or 2 reading. He struggles with reading and this program works very well with his style. we move at his pace and some lessons go quickly and others take extra time.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melinda,
We completely understand. Some children just have to go slowly in order to succeed, and All About Reading allows you to go as slowly as needed. It sounds like you two are doing very well!

Amy Mac

says:

Mastery Based learning is so important with these key foundations.

Alice

says:

Good explanation. We love AAR!

Ruth

says:

This program has been such a blessing!

Annette

says:

AAR had been awesome for our daughter!

Wendy Clark

says:

Thank you so much for this program!!!!! It has changed our lives!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Wendy! We are very happy to have made a difference. Thanks for letting us know.

Jessie Peckens

says:

I love this approach to learning to read and my son is doing so well with this program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is great to hear, Jessie. Thank you.

Lindsay Rowe

says:

100% agree, this is why we homeschool. Just because my child is a certain age doesn’t mean he is working at the exact level of others with his birth year.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Exactly! Thanks, Lindsay.

I would love to use this program with my son who we are homeschooling this year! I have heard great things about it:)

Annie Currier

says:

We have never used All About Spelling. It would be great to try it out!

Jessica

says:

My kiddos have done so well with the program! Thank you so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jessica. Thank you for letting us know your kids are doing so well!

Sara

says:

We are just beginning the All About Spelling program with the IEW PALS program. We love the hands on and visual learning. It makes spelling fun!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We’re happy it’s so fun, Sara! Thanks for letting us know.

Lana K.

says:

Hi! My daughter is 7 Years old and we started 2nd level of All About Reading and Spelling programs for second grade. With the pace she is doing her work for the last two months, I feel that she will finish both programs in February-March. I am ordering level 3 now so we can continue to work without any breaks until end of this school year. We may continue level 3 during the summer or take a summer off and continue it in grade 3. I like that whole Program made by levels not by grades, which gives us flexibility in our work. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lana,
Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes people assume that mastery-based learning is only for those that struggle, and that grade level materials are fine, or even best, for everyone else. Your daughter’s quick progress with AAR 2 and AAS 2 show that advanced learners can benefit from mastery-based learning as well. She is better off going on to higher level learning when she is ready for it.

Temalesi

says:

Well! here in Fiji we are using Observation Checklist where Teachers observe children individually. From there they may figure out the development pace of the child. I’m so thankful with your help in advising me with the 5 reasons of dong Mastery based Program mes

Annalisa

says:

Looking forward to trying all about spelling program.

Elizabeth T

says:

Mastery-based just makes more sense. Why move on if the child does not grasp the information they are being taught?

April

says:

I love the ability based programs. It allows me to tailor school to my child’s strength and weaknesses. It also takes the pressure off to hurry and get to the next grade.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

April,
Yes, that is a great point. Without grade levels, the pressure is off, or at least slackened. A parent can work at the level that is right for their child. Thank you for mentioning that.

Janna

says:

We have been enjoying the All About Reading program that we have tried for the first time. It’s a great program and my kids are gaining confidence and enjoying reading. Thanks

Stephanie

says:

Can’t wait to try this!

Amy

says:

Sounds like a fabulous curriculum.

Linda S

says:

Mastering a concept or a skill before moving on to the next is what education ought to be – that is just plain common sense!

Nicole c

says:

Make sense. That’s why many of us homeschoool so we can meet the needs of our kids

Melanie Hollstein

says:

We are loving mastery-based lessons versus grade-level lessons. We recently found out that one of my children has double vision as his eyes aren’t working together. So, after the addition of glasses and vision therapy, he is enjoying learning to read. He and his younger brother are doing the same reading lessons at the moment without any negativity that would be caused by grade-level lessons. We are looking for mastery and success at his pace.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melanie,
“We are looking for mastery and success at his pace.” That’s an excellent way to put it! Thank you.

Kathy

says:

This makes so much sense!

Christy Maloney

says:

Love this! This is one of the reasons I love AAR and AAS! My son can go at his pace. He has no clue about grade level. If he’s having trouble in the level 2 AAR, we go back and review concepts in the Level 2 AAR or we read the level 1 AAR books. This builds confidence to try and succeed. LOVE this program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Christy,
Yes! Allowing students to progress at their own unique pace is a wonderful way to learn!

Suzanne

says:

I definitely agree with you on your mastery-based curriculum. My 8 year old boy has struggled learning to read, but is doing well with AAR. We are taking the lessons a little slower than the plans and he is coming along. He is embarrassed because most children he knows from public school (we homeschool) are way ahead of him. Just the other day he said, “I am ever going to learn to read?” I reassured him that he is reading already and he will get better as we go. Thanks for your great curriculum!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Suzanne, and thank you for sharing how your son is doing. I’m sad that he is embarrassed, however. Poor guy.

Julie A Hord

says:

I am so glad God gave me the courage to buck the system! My third child had been our most reluctant reader yet; no matter what I tried he just wasn’t interested. I finally found AAR and began with level 1, even though he is 10 years old. And he has definitley “blossomed”. This program is so wonderful. He’s not only learning fast but he’s loving it…and mastering the skills almost effortlessly. We are all so happy with his progress! Thank you AAR!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Julie,
Thank you for sharing your story of courage with us!

KIm

says:

Yes and Amen.

Allison

says:

This makes so much sense!

Amy

says:

Just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

Coral Pimm

says:

When my daughter was in grade 4 I ordered the level 4 book. It was very clear that she was not at that level and so we started with level 1. She is now in grade 6 and almost finished the 3rd book. Some lessons take 1day some take 3days – but as long as she is progressing that’s all I’m after!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story, Coral. That backward looking, seeing how far you’ve come, is a wonderful way to assess your child’s progress. We discuss that in our blog post Avoiding the “Big Pit”.

Yvette

says:

I’ve taken a mastery-based approach. I did attempt grade-level but it was clear that we needed to go down a level.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yvette,
I’m happy to hear you were able to place your child where he or she needed to be for the best success. It will definitely pay off.

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