Kansas Tries Grouping Kids by Ability, not Age

Seems like an idea worth trying:

Instead of simply moving kids from one grade to the next as they get older, schools are grouping students by ability. Once they master a subject, they move up a level. This practice has been around for decades, but was generally used on a smaller scale, in individual grades, subjects or schools.
Now, in the latest effort to transform the bedraggled Kansas City, Mo. schools, the district is about to become what reform experts say is the largest one to try the approach. Starting this fall officials will begin switching 17,000 students to the new system to turnaround trailing schools and increase abysmal tests scores.
“The current system of public education in this country is not working” said Superintendent John Covington. “It’s an outdated, industrial, agrarian kind of model that lends itself to still allowing students to progress through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair rather than whether or not they have truly mastered the competencies and skills.”
Here’s how the reform works:
Students — often of varying ages — work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it’s needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level.
For instance, in a classroom learning about currency, one group could draw pictures of pennies and nickels. A student who has mastered that skill might use pretend money to practice making change.
Students who progress quickly can finish high school material early and move forward with college coursework. Alternatively, in some districts, high-schoolers who need extra time can stick around for another year.
Advocates say the approach cuts down on discipline problems because advanced students aren’t bored and struggling students aren’t frustrated.
But backers acknowledge implementation is tricky, and the change is so drastic it can take time to explain to parents, teachers and students.

I don’t think it will take time to explain…more like time to accept (“we fear change“–especially in our education system). But this method seems to work:

Education officials in Kansas City, Maine and elsewhere said part of the allure is the success other districts have after making the switch.
Marzano Research Laboratory, an educational research and professional development firm, evaluated 2009 state test data for over 3,500 students from 15 school districts in Alaska, Colorado, and Florida. Researchers found that students who learned through the different approach were 2.5 times more likely to score at a level that shows they have a good grasp of the material on exams for reading, writing, and mathematics.
Greg Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction for the Bering Strait School District in Alaska, recalled that before the switch there were students who had been on honor roll throughout high school then failed a test the state requires for graduation.
Now, he said if students are on pace to pass a class like Algebra I, the likelihood of them passing the state exam covering that material is more than 90 percent. He’s proud of that accomplishment and said teachers love it.
“The most die-hard advocates for our system are our teachers because, especially the ones who were back with us before the change, they saw where things were then,” he said. “They see where things are now and they don’t want to go back.”

Like I said, seems like it’s worth a shot.

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11 years ago

It’s almost as if education is a highly personal and variable experience that cannot be mass produced effectively through a one-size-fits-all government service. Marketization couldn’t possibly work well for something like that.

11 years ago

You said; “Like I said, seems like it’s worth a shot.”
Unfortunately that is wishful thinking. It is not because of the teachers, unions or principles would be the problem but it is Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) that will kill it.
RIDE has standards all schools in the state must adhere to, all classroom curriculum, teacher weekly lesson plans, classroom books and classroom teaching methodology. In other words, teachers are no longer creative teaching in the classroom any more but following the written guidance and direction of RIDE.
If you like the education experiment that customizes and enhances the child’s learning experience (like back in the old days when you and I went to school) instead of the No Child Left Behind one size fits all that RIDE has bought into you’d have to get RIDE’s approval and permission first.
Then you’d have to find a school district and school superintendent willing to try it out but then RIDES new teacher evaluations fall into play because the evaluations are based on teachers teaching to the RIDE standards and free form education individualized education does not fall within RIDE’s standards.
So the teachers and union would complain that if they try this new way of teaching outside of the standards how would they be evaluated for their pay and step increases.
You also have parents to contend with when you inform them that you will be teaching your child outside the state standards which if proven successful then the parents will want the RIDE standards scrapped as ineffectual to learning!

11 years ago

Ken, Oh, I get all that. Just seems like a “pilot” project of some sort may be worth trying in RI. That’s what I was getting at.

11 years ago

mangeek and I have talked about exactly this. If a 14 year old has a 10 year old’s education level, then why is the 14 year old sitting in a classroom with other 14 year olds?
Or if a 17 year old has the English comprehension of a 2 year old, then why is she sitting in an 11th grade math or science class and being expected to pass?
Get the kids into the appropriate class for their ability and advance them as their abilities dictate.
Why does it take non-educators to figure that out?

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
11 years ago

“Tracking” used to be the standard in schools, in which kids of similar abilities were in the same classes (same grade, just different class groups). If a kid showed ambition and ability they would be transferred to a higher track with their peers — so there was opportunity for all.
I lived through the change to “equality” and the elimination of tracking. The theory (I assume) was that the more motivated kids would pull the others up. The reality was just the opposite.
A few years ago I discussed this with someone tied in with the RI teacher education field, and said we should go back to tracking. He looked horrified, spitting out that “that would stigmatize the kids in the lower tracks!”
So there we have it. The typical socialist – progressive mind set to pull everyone down to achieve “equality,” well entrenched in teacher training / colleges of education pedagogy and in practice in public schools across the land.
Another reason why public education quality continues to decline.

11 years ago

“He looked horrified, spitting out that “that would stigmatize the kids in the lower tracks!””
Ah. As long as a good education has been put second to something important …

11 years ago

Grouping according to ability and achievement is an idea well worth exploring.
A highly sensible idea. Excellent.

11 years ago

Monique, years ago I tutored a young married woman who had been in special education classes,who was a high school graduate. She could not print in block letters the alphabet. She had a high school diploma in our state.

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