Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do away with grades

An idea long used by homeschoolers is now being considered by the Adams County school district near Denver, CO. For K-8 students they're dumping grade levels and moving children through based on their actual progress in mastering the subject instead. They call it a Standards Based Educational Model.

The change that's getting by far the most attention is the decision to do away with traditional grade levels – for kids younger than eighth grade, this first year, though the district plans to phase in the reform through high school a year at a time. Ultimately, there will be 10 multiage levels, rather than 12 grades, and students might be in different levels depending on the subject. They'll move up only as they demonstrate mastery of the material.

But Dr. Selleck and others are quick to emphasize that that's only one piece of a radically different, more student-centered, approach to learning – and that it's not the same as tracking, the currently out-of-favor system of grouping students by ability.


Selleck says most parents she talks to are enthusiastic, and the district is doing an enormous amount of outreach and education to explain the changes to them. (She often uses a video game analogy: Students are engaged, take as much or as little time as they need to at each level, and can't move on to the next level until they've mastered the one before it). Christian Science Monitor

We've got to acknowledge that the goal of education is actual mastery, not time in seat. As a taxpayer that's what I intend my taxes to be paying for--children able to read & write, do sums and understand their responsibilities and rights and citizens. I'm completely convinced that this system will result in children who are more willing to expend the effort necessary to make progress. When we give them a clear goal to work toward and reward them with moving on they will. Balance this with emphasizing that all people learn at a different pace, none of which is necessarily wrong or bad, and we'll have freed these students up to concentrate on following the educational path that is best for them...not the system.


din819go said...

Kay -- thanks for reposting this article. I posted it on PTOTalk before it died. I think this is a wonderful idea!!!

The question is how to get the public education racket to make this happen --

Nashteach said...

Two interesting things about the district, a fairly small "system."

First is that 79% of the teachers have advanced degrees; I think that's pretty impressive.

Second is that the district is 68% Hispanic. I don't see ELL or immigrant data, so I'm unsure how many of them are new to the U.S. and new to English, but standard based makes perfect sense for them. Though I'd point out this can work both ways. The assumption is that 6 year olds are first graders and if they can learn to read and learn math faster than typical, they can move through school faster and save taxpayers money. Fine and good. However, is the opposite true. If they get 11 year olds new to the district who can't read, but maybe are better at math, they try to catch them up in learning English. Can they get them through "8 years" of English so they'll start high school by 14? Maybe so.

I'm not saying it isn't a smart move, but I am wondering if the impetus is about non-native speakers coming to the district at whatever age.

OK, I looked at their 2005-06 Progress Report" and, to me, data points to ELL being the main drag on meeting AYP. ELL was 32% of the children- and that's four years ago. So it may be innovative, but I'm betting a big part of it is about getting children at various ages with no English background. I'm curious how this impacts NCLB tracking, which is done by grade level. Is it an end run around NCLB, too? Again, not critisizing, just exploring the rationale and ramifications.

din819go said...

Tom -- Since you are a MNPS teacher you have surely seen kids that are truly hampered by the factory method of public education. I think this is a model that could help keep kids in school. Today so many are bored to tears in our classrooms, the teachers either don't care or are not willing to be innovative to help.

This system being tried reminds in many ways of the one room school house -- a time when educational standards were much higher and kids came to school prepared to learned. In this case the kids may be in an advanced english or math class but in a normal science or history class. They could span different grade levels while still proceeding through the educational requirements to graduate early or on time. If kids need a little longer to complete english language skills so be it.

Remember it is the ELL kids that are hurting Nashville's scores in K-8. These kids are not dumb by any means they just need the time to understand English.

It is the high schools that are struggling -- of course this is related to the poor quality of education delivered in the middle schools and the poor caliber of many of the high school teachers, including teachers at the academic magnet high schools that need to go.

We need a paradigm shift in how education is delivered in the US and in Nashville. I would love to see this happen. What highly effective teacher would not like this?

Nashteach said...

Elizabeth- You seem to address me as if I am against this. As I stated in three places in my comment, I am not against it; as a teacher and as an MNPS parent, I think it's a good idea. I was just curious about the district and how much the huge influx of immigrants had impacted the decision to do this.