Friday, January 20, 2012

Education Mediocrity: The Grade System

The biggest problems facing the education system are its emphasis on standardized testing; the focus on underachieving students; and the shift to mass educational methods. Standardized testing fails students for many reasons. First, teachers and schools focus on teaching to the test and lose focus on other academic subjects including history, geography, and specials (i.e. art, physical education, home economics, music). Secondly, most standardized tests focus only on meeting a minimum set of requirements instead of testing for maximum achievement. Thirdly, students are graded on one test that takes a few hours. Everyone is entitled to a bad day, but not in our school system. All of these reasons equate to a formula for underachievement and mediocrity.

A perfect example of the educational system focusing on underachieving students is Title I. Under Title I the federal government provides funding to school districts so they can hire special educational teachers whose emphasis is to help underachieving students. On the other hand, very few educational dollars are spent on addressing advanced students’ needs. Unfortunately, a great number of advanced students are bored in school because teachers are too busy trying to elevate the level of underachieving students. I am not saying schools should not try to help underachieving students, but equal money and time should go to advanced students. The focus of school systems to solely help underachieving students is also a formula for underachievement and mediocrity.

What is the underlying issue causing underachievement and mediocrity in our educational system? The grade system! The grade system was set up as a means to mass educate children. Unfortunately, this system makes the assumption that children within the same age group learn at the same rate and in the same manner. This is obviously not true! A better model would be to eliminate the grade system and place students in learning pods or what educators refer to as a “standards-based learning” system. For instance, a level 1 pod for reading may consist of students anywhere from age 5 to 8 whereas, a level 7 pod for reading may consist of students between the ages of 8 to 14. Students can move up a level in a few weeks, months, or years depending on when students meet the minimum proficiency requirements. In other words, student advancement is not restricted to the yearly basis per the current grade level system. Also, the “non-grade level” structure allows students to advance at different rates depending on the subject matter. For example, one particular student may be in level 3 reading, but at the same time they may be in level 8 math and science. Meanwhile, teachers can focus on a specific subject matter to teach as well as focusing on teaching groups of students that are equally challenged because they have the same ability. Under a standards-based learning system students are not frustrated with work that is too hard or bored because the subject matter is too easy. This type of learning system empowers and motivates students to move to the next level. This is an environment which fosters maximum learning because both underachieving and overachieving students obtain equal emphasis in the learning process. This is the easiest way to maximize educational dollars while at the same time maximizing test scores. After all, it is a proven fact that advanced students learn at a faster rate than underachieving students. Once educators realize that not all students are college material they will come to realization that a standards-based learning system works best coupled with a good vocational program in high school.

Of course a change to a standards based learning system will face scrutiny from bureaucrats and oblivious parents will object. Yes, the proposal has flaws, but it is better than the current system that has been ineffective and continues to fail millions of young Americans. The Adams County Colorado school district began a similar educational system three years ago. Adams County made the shift to a standards-based learning system after they were placed on the “academic watch list”. Since changing to the standards-based learning system test scores have been on the rise in Adams County.

My Book: Is America Dying? (, Barnes and Noble)

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post, Patrick. I always struggled in school b/c when it came to subjects like history, reading, etc I did pretty darned well. Anything with numbers gave me issues. This system would have afforded me the opportunity to have a better foundation laid for those courses with numbers.