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NCLB Outrages

The End of Grade Levels?

Ohanian Comment: The
theory here seems to be is that if you don't
have grade levels, no child is left behind. In
theory, I like it. In practicality, though,
this is an old idea that is rarely tested in a
typical public school. I wonder what happens as
the more able students zip ahead and the kids
with learning difficulties remain learning
basic skills--with younger and younger peers.

For me, the problem we need to face is the
curriculum itself. Why do we insist on the same
(outdated) curriculum for everybody?

That said, what this little piece in
Parade really proves is that how you
frame the context produces the results. Here
are the poll results:

Should schools do away with age-dependent grade
Yes 77%

No 23%

by Susan Fine

Starting this August, elementary and middle-
school students in one school district in
Westminster, Colo., won't be assigned to grade
levels based on age. Instead, they'll fall into
multi-age levels based on what they already
know and will move up only as they master new

The concept makes sense to many education
experts because it matches how kids actually
learn: One student needs three hours to figure
out fractions while another takes a full day.
The approach was successful in the Chugach
public school district of Alaska during the
1990s. After five years, student-achievement
scores there jumped from the bottom quartile to
the top quartile, and the system is still
working well today. Several other districts
nationwide are considering the model, and some
schools in Maine plan to implement the
philosophy over the next few years. "Teachers
who try it are excited. They see how powerful
it is," says Richard DeLorenzo, who was
superintendent of Chugach during its
transformation and who co-founded the Re-
Inventing Schools Coalition to perpetuate the

Still, many districts are hesitant. "It's very
hard to get people to believe in something
new," says Deborah Meier of New York
University's Steinhardt School of Education.
"They worry that it's a guinea-pig experiment
or a fad that will go away in a few years."

— Susan Fine


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