Education is an integral part of every child’s development, and the terminologies used to describe different stages of learning can be perplexing at times.

Is elementary school the same as grade school? Parents, educators, and students have been asking this question for decades. The terms “elementary school” and “grade school” are frequently used interchangeably. Are they, however, the same thing? Let us find out.

Definition of Terms

While there are similarities between the two terms, there are also some distinctions. This blog post will explore the differences between elementary and grade school to help you better understand what each term means.

First, here is a table that summarizes how the terms “elementary school” and “grade school” are defined in some of our most widely used dictionaries.

ReferencesElementary SchoolGrade School
Collins COBUILDAn elementary school is a school where children are taught for the first six or sometimes eight years of their educationIn the United States, a grade school is the same as an elementary school
Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary(In the US) a school for children between the ages of about 6 and 12(In the US) a school for children between the ages of about 6 and 12
Merriam-Webster DictionaryA school including usually the first four to the first eight grades and often a kindergartenA public school including the first six or the first eight grades

As you can see, there is little distinction between them, which is why they are used interchangeably in everyday conversation. However, let’s delve deeper into these terms to help with a better understanding.

What is Elementary School?

Elementary school is the starting point for a child’s formal education journey in the United States. It usually starts in kindergarten (K) and lasts until the fifth or sixth grade. It is also known as primary school. Students typically progress from elementary school to middle school, junior high school, and then to high school.

Students in elementary school are introduced to the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic, which are critical skills for success in later years. They also study social studies, science, and other subjects to gain a broad understanding of the world around them. Furthermore, students are taught how to collaborate, think critically, and solve problems, all of which are essential life skills.

The goal of elementary education is to lay a solid foundation of knowledge and skills for students to build on in later years. Teachers at this level strive to instill in students a love of learning and to encourage them to pursue their interests and passions. They also work to improve students’ social and emotional skills, assisting them in developing positive relationships with peers and adults, as well as their self-confidence and self-esteem.

What is Grade School?

Grade school is the educational stage that begins with the first year of formal education and lasts until the end of the elementary school years. It spans all grades, from kindergarten (K) to eighth grade. The term “grade school” refers to both public and private schools and is frequently used interchangeably with “elementary school.” has another take on this term. It states that:

graded school, also called grade school, an elementary or secondary school in which the instructional program is divided into school years, known as grades or forms. At the end of each academic year, pupils move from one grade to the next higher in a group, with only an occasional outstanding achiever allowed to skip a grade, or advance beyond his fellows to a still higher grade.”

Why the Confusion?

When you try to distinguish one term from another on the Internet, you may come across online forums about the subject.

An online user posted, Does the two “grade school” and “elementary school” have no difference at all in the states? Or any regional or meaning difference do they have?

To which another replied, “There’s no difference in the way I’ve ever heard them used. I regularly say both, but I probably say ‘elementary school’ more often than ‘grade school’. The only difference between states, and actually even in the same city, is how many grades an elementary school has. The elementary school I went to has grades 1-6. Some other elementary schools in the same city have grades 1-8.

The confusion stems from the fact that the terms “elementary school” and “grade school” are frequently used interchangeably in different regions and contexts. For example, some areas may use the term “elementary school” to refer to the early years of formal education (K-5), whereas others may use the term “grade school” to refer to the entire range of grades (K-8). This can be perplexing, especially for those unfamiliar with the educational system in a particular area.

This perplexity is exacerbated by the fact that different states and school districts have different educational systems, with varying grades and levels of education.

Most schools, including Imagine Schools West Melbourne, define it as kindergarten through sixth grade. The term “elementary education” was also used on the Florida Department of Education website to refer to grades K-6.


Based on the definitions above, it is clear that elementary school and grade school can mean the same thing. This is because both terms refer to the first stage of formal education, which usually encompasses grades K-5 or K-8.

Understanding the definitions of these terms and the context in which they are used can help to clear up any confusion and ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding education. Whether you call it elementary school or grade school, what matters most is the quality of education students receive and the opportunities for personal and professional growth that it provides.

At Imagine Schools West Melbourne, we want every student to reach their full potential and discover pathways to long-term success. 

If you want an elementary school with a solid academic excellence and character development foundation, consider joining our community.

Imagine Schools West Melbourne is a public charter school in West Melbourne, Florida. Please call (321) 233-4301 to inquire about enrollment opportunities.