kitchen table math, the sequel: Adams County School District 50 Eliminates Grades Levels and Grades

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Adams County School District 50 Eliminates Grades Levels and Grades

Read the news coverage from the Denver Post article.

I've long thought of grade levels as a subtle form of child abuse. Imagine if someone made you wear the wrong size underwear every day for 13 years; not very comfortable and not likely to turn you into a clothes horse.

Like it or not, we've become a highly diverse, mobile, and transient population and this means it's a roll of the dice getting your child in a classroom that is delivering a curriculum they can 'reach'. It's far more likely that your child is either ahead (and bored) or behind (and overwhelmed) their cohort. Kids are grouped by age, behavior, where their last school says they were, and IEP status, but almost never by academic or language need.

Adams County 50 has collaborated with Dr. Robert Marzano to create a pure standards based system where "Mastery of standards is the constant and time is the variable." In this system you get what you need regardless of age or other arbitrary non-academic measures. They're creating 10 mastery levels that students move through in order to graduate from high school and each level has its own measurement to determine whether or not you move on.

Here's the district's description of their Standards Based Education reform.

This has been done before in the Chugach School District with not too shabby results. Standard Achievement Test rankings moved from the 28th to the 71st percentile over a five year period.

The Chugach School District Office is based in Anchorage, Alaska. Chugach's 214 students are scattered throughout 22,000 square miles of mostly isolated and remote areas of South Central Alaska. With 30 faculty and staff, CSD is the smallest organization to ever win a Baldrige Award. CSD delivers instruction in education from preschool up to age 21 in a comprehensive, standards-based system. Education occurs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instruction is delivered in the work place, in the community, in the home and in school. Half (50%) of the students in the Chugach School District are minorities (Alaska Natives).

As always the devil is in the details. Chugach is not Brooklyn and Adams County has only just begun, but for my money, this is real reform, not deck chair rearrangement.

I like snow and mountains, hmmmm.


Catherine Johnson said...

It's far more likely that your child is either ahead (and bored) or behind (and overwhelmed) their cohort.

but WAIT!


Catherine Johnson said...

wow - Robert Marzano.

I've got at least 3 of his books & I've read most of the famous one (Classroom Instruction that Works, I believe)

That was the book covering research showing that correcting homework was one of the most powerful things a teacher could do to improve learning.

The existence of this research has had no effect on my district.

But practitioners might draw a different conclusion from the research on providing feedback to students, which has found that providing “feedback coupled with remediation” (Hattie, 1992) or feedback on “testlike events” in the form of explanations to students (Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, & Morgan, 1991) positively affects achievement.

The Case For and Against Homework

You can download the article from that URL. It contains the chart on homework showing effect sizes.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wish I could give my district a list of consultants I would be willing to pay for.

Marzano, Schmoker, DuFour, McEwan, Damer

And of course anyone from ADI & from Morningside...

I'd be happy if they'd just pay for a reading instructor from Windward to come over and teach phonics to staff & parents.

Anonymous said...

Here's my take on differentiated instruction. It's not what you think.

Anonymous said...

I want to believe..but I will wait to see the results. Now, every time I ever read a newspaper article about something I know, I see just how far from the truth an article is, so I imagine that's probably happening here, too. So my questions based on the article might be off, but they are all I've got, you know?

The new system will have 10 levels instead of the traditional kindergarten through 12th grade model.
Students will be tested this spring to determine their proficiency in reading, writing and math, and will be grouped next year with peers who are learning at the same level.

on the surface, this is no different--10, 13, big deal. And some get held back, okay. But that's it? Regrouping once a year? Sounds like grade levels to me!

Regardless, without an actual curriculum that can be done to mastery, this can't work. What curricula are being used here?

Six-year-old Dominic Herrera showed one of them on the subject of counting pennies. On the chart were four categories: "I need help," "I think I can," "I know I can" and, finally, "I can teach it."

okay, those categories frighten me. The CHILD has to assess what the child knows? Sounds like middle school all over--kids don't know what they don't know. How are they supposed to now know? What's the mechanism? Who tells 'em? Who corrects them? When does "I know I can" actually mean "TEACHER KNOWS I can" ?

The Gates Foundation gave the Chugach district $5 million to replicate the model across Alaska. About a dozen Alaska districts have tried to implement the model — some with success. Others abandoned it.
Denali Borough School District removed the system from two of its three schools when teachers complained that tracking student progress was becoming too burdensome.

why did it work in some AK places and not others? is the Denali district example merely illustrative? What was burdensome, and what other reasons are there? re: gates foundation: Did the Gates Foundation figure out why it didn't work? Does anyone do followup at these darn foundations and publish it? Can we read the research?

Adams 50 is doing away with grades A-F, but students will get grades ranging from 4 to 0, allowing them to still have a grade-point average that colleges will recognize.

what is the point in changing alphabets? does someone think this means something, to change from A-F or 4-0?

But the curricula matter. What goes used in AK, does anyone know?

Anonymous said...


I like your opening "I want to believe". Me too!

The key to this thing, that strikes a chord with me is the replacement of grade levels with mastery levels. Unless they pervert this (as you caution) by letting the kids determine their status, the concept has huge benefits.

I teach kids that have a, minimum, 6 year spread in abilities. It's a nightmare. Anything that gets this variability narrowed would have enormous benefits in classroom management and kid's ability to reach the curricula put in front of them.

Only time will tell if the PC Police and Union Hacks collaborate to water down this concept.

TurbineGuy said...

Chugach is actually pretty civilized. It's a suburb of Anchorage, between Anchorage and Wasilla/Palmer (yes Palin's Wasilla).

I looked up it's latest standards based assessment scores and it does do extraordinary well, though with such few students it's a very small sample size.