Education Nation No Grade Levels

Friday, September 24, 2010 - 2:56pm

Colorado district groups students by ability instead of age.

At first, Hailey Sharp had to get used to the new standards-bases system in Colorado's Adams 50 School District.

Instead of students being grouped together by age, they are grouped by ability.

"It's better because I'm not left behind," Hailey said. She is a level 5 student at Metz Elementary. "I'm doing what I can at my own pace."

The Adams 50 School District did away with the traditional first grade, second grade, third grade, etc. model.

Now, students are categorized in a system of 14 levels based on how much they know.

Some students may stay in one level longer than a year; others may accelerate through more than level.

Either way, teachers say it is working.

"I see children now that are not bored. They are challenged," Karen Jenks, a teacher at Metz Elementary, said. "To the kids who totally felt inferior because they didn't understand why everybody else in the room knew it and they didn't."

In the beginning, Jenks wasn't sure about having kids of different ages together.

"I was worried, was a fifth grader going to be upset because there was a third grader sitting next to him?" Jenks said. "We're getting to the point where our kids now, they don't even talk about it or notice it."

At first, Hailey's grandfather Dave Brown was skeptical about the new system.

"It was great for the kids that are advanced, but it was something to think about," Brown said. "But with this program, I'm seeing a lot of push for my grandchildren and their friends."

With a change this big, district administrators expected to see ups and downs throughout the process, especially with regards to test scores.

The latest results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests show that Adams 50 had lower scores than the previous year, but that was no surprise to the district's executive director of learning services, Dr. Oliver Grenham.

"We focused primarily on filling students' learning gaps last year," Grenham said. "To really see a large shift, it would really be a three-to-five year expectation."

Grenham says, for example, a 10-year-old student may be learning remedial material from level 2 to address some deficiencies, but that student by law still needs to take a fifth grade CSAP test.

Grenham says the true measure will be in a few years when students catch up to their own grade levels.

"Students are much more engaged in their own learning, they've taken a bigger ownership of their learning this year," Grenham said.

The Adams 50 School District is garnering attention from across the nation for the change because it is the only district using a standards-based system at all its schools.

In Kansas City, five schools decided to try it based on the model developed in Westminster.

"Ultimately, the test of this system will be, are kids successful or not?" Grenham said.

Hailey says she doesn't mind the new system of a school without grade levels.

"I got used to being with people that are different ages than me," Hailey said.

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