49. Teachers expect students to be on grade level.
For centuries, literally for thousands of years, there were no grade levels and there were no arbitrary, limiting, totally rigid grade level expectations, that is, amounts of learning that students were forced to master. Grade levels are a very recent invention derived from what is called the "factory" model of schooling. In the "factory" model of schooling, like in a factory, students were perceived as "the raw material" from which a uniform product would be obtained (high school graduates) as a result of a "manufacturing" process (that is, the process of schooling). And just as "raw material" that began the manufacturing process at a certain time and became the manufactured product after a certain process lasting a specific period of time, students of the same age were conceived as the raw material entering the manufacturing process (schooling) at a certain time (at the age of 5) for a specific period of time (Kinder + 12 years or grades). Grade level expectations totally rigid definitions of what a second- or a fifth-grader must knoware even more recent inventions derived from what is called "efficiency" models of the manufacturing process.
There is NO other rationale for grades in the schooling process. There are NO developmental reasons for having grades since children develop in very unique ways. There are NO physiological or psychological reasons for having grades since children grow physically, emotionally and intellectually in very unique ways and at very unique rates. There are NO reasons for grade levels in schooling. There are NO reasons for arbitrary, rigid, uncompromising grade level expectations because each child is a unique individual, with individual features strengths and weaknesses-- not found anywhere else in any other human individual. We have grades as a means to organize a "manufacturing" process in the most effectiveeconomically, socially, and culturally acceptable-- way we know how. We have intolerably rigid grade level expectations as a means to calibrate the "manufacturing" process of turning five-year-old children into high-school-graduates that have the skills needed by the industrial world. Of course, "raw" material is ALL the same in ALL respects. Iron is iron. Corn is corn. But each child is TOTALLY different from every other child in the world. Individual differences characterize the world of humans. The manufacturing process requires uniformity and similarities in inputs and outputs.
It is very interesting to note that we do NOT expect ALL children to be born exactly 9 months after conception, weighing exactly so many pounds; we do NOT expect ALL children to hold up their head, fix their eyes, turn over, sit, crawl, drink or eat, teeth, measure 45 inches or walk at exactly this or that exact age. We do NOT expect ALL children to like this type of food, or that kind of juice, or prefer this game or that music by a certain age. Then, suddenly, at age 5, we expect ALL children to begin to learn the same things, at the same time, growing at the same rate in their learning, for the next 13 years!!!! Who are we kidding? We have been kidding ourselves for over a century.
Grade levels have NOT been shown to help students learn and achieve. In fact, the state of Kentucky recently abolished grade levels and seems to be doing better as it prepares young students to master content area concepts at their own pace. In Kentucky, students go to school, not to a grade. And at school, teachers organize or group them, re-organize or re-group them according to their needs, not according to their age.
Many schools in the 1950s and 1960s became "un-graded schools," that is, schools where children were organized and grouped for learning according to their learning needs. There were no "grade level expectations." Teachers worked in teams providing lessons to different groups of students according to their needs. Any child would have two or three teachers, and two or three different groups of classmates, depending on the content area concepts the child was studying. Teachers would plan together, grade students together, and make decisions together for re-grouping or reorganizing students into new learning groups as new learning needs were identified or as concepts were mastered and new concepts introduced. The un-graded school curriculum taught key concepts, but did not mandate that concepts had to be learned in only one way.
"Un-graded schools" were abandoned because teachers felt that the burden of professional cooperation and collaboration, together with the unequal distribution of students in learning groups based on needs, were very heavy loads given the remuneration teachers received at the time. Today, un-graded schools occur only when teachers understand the benefits of meeting student needs and promoting student growth from where students stand in terms of their own learning. For these teachers, unequal student group size is not perceived as unequal distribution of labor. On the contrary, it is welcomed since it facilitates teaching and learning.
On the other hand, state legislatures and federal guidelines in order to safeguard "equal educational opportunity for all students" and "equal access to the core curriculum by all students," literally mandate the teacher/student ratio that schools are to implement. And now even mandate what students are to learn on a daily basis. Research on the effects of class size on student learning has not shown any benefits for smaller classes. In general, an unprepared teacher or a poorly trained teacher reaches dismal student achievement levels regardless of class size. Very recent research seems to strongly suggest that mandated, uniform learning by ALL students results in "teaching-to-the-test." Mandated, uniform learning by ALL students also stuns the growth of high achievers who are limited in their learning by the very limited expectations at each grade.
It could be assumed that smaller class size promotes and increases teacher-student and student-student direct contact and communication, resulting in increased language development. Again, the key factor is the preparation, instructional skills, professional knowledge and experience of the teacher.
Thus, we may need to continue living, for another short while, in a world in which key instructional decisions determining exactly what students shall learn on a certain day of the school year, and grouping students for instructional purposeswill continue to be made on the basis of factors that bear no relevance in the decisions. Since we must group students because of labor contracts and misunderstood legal mandates of "equal educational opportunities" and "equal access to the core curriculum"in exact, same-amount, equal student-to-teacher ratio groups, there will be in ALL classes students who are far below and far above the very restrictive, very rigid, very limiting and totally arbitrary definitions of "grade level expectations."
What to do? What teachers have done for years. In some cases, teachers have teamed up within grade level classrooms (horizontal teaming) and across grade level classrooms (vertical teaming) to provide students with instruction that meets their learning needs. In other cases, teachers have carefully outlined the "essential skills and essential knowledge" in the content areas that must be mastered for continued growth. Teachers have provided, then, common instruction to ALL students on these truly essential skills and knowledge, instruction that matches each students unique individual characteristics. Then, for none-essential skills and knowledge, teachers have provided differentiated instruction where, for example, advanced students learn to multiply three-digit numbers, while less advanced students practice multiplying a three-digit number by a single digit number.
For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:
1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading
Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)
Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.
For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:
CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK, Ph.D.
Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Certification (12/2006)
3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406
Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605