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Differentiated Instruction: Goodbye to Grade Levels?

TeachHUB Blog

Kansas City schools are taking differentiated instruction to a whole new level – little red school house style. 

Goodbye to Grade Levels?

KC schools will focus on more personalized and individual learning than classroom-style instruction. Students will be grouped by ability and move up once they've mastered the skill.

According to the US Today article, "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." full article

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Theoretically, this could alleviate some of the pressure on teachers to service a room full of students with widely varying levels of ability. The biggest problem would likely be implementation.

Districts in Alaska, Maine and Colorado are also experimenting with skills-based grouping. 

Last year, Adams 50 in Denver shifted to this grade-free approach to learning. Children have more control over their lessons and do not move on until they've become proficient in the subject.

The change that's getting the most attention by far is the decision to do away with traditional grade levels. At first, the new approach will affect only kids traditionally in grades lower than eighth. The district plans to phase the reform in through high school, one year at a time. Ultimately, there will be 10 multi-age 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. 

Adams has instituted a pilot program of 300 hundred students to test the grade-free classroom. So far, teachers and students seem encouraged by the possibilities within this system and believe it gives students a greater sense of ownership over their education. 

Possible Complications

Scheduling is a big one. It's also unclear what will happen if large numbers of kids arrive in high school still unable to demonstrate proficiency in certain subjects, like math, and a bottleneck gets created. Because no student can move forward without a "B" equivalent, it's also essentially impossible for students to have lower than a 3.0 GPA, which could be a challenge to explain to colleges.

There is also a social concern for students struggling academically who fall behind or skyrocket ahead. How will students cope with having to work with so kids at different levels in their development and social lives? Or will this relieve pressure on students and create a solutions to students falling too far behind and slipping through the cracks?

Do you think grade-free schools are the future of education? Share your thoughts on this new teaching philosophy in the comments section!