Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Schools STILL trying to group students by skill, not grade level!!

Will educators ever do good research?

A USA Today pickup of an Associated Press article about schools trying to group students by skills rather than age or grade level is really very sad.

The situation provides yet another piece of evidence that educators do lousy research before jumping on fad ideas.

In this case, the Kentucky education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) officially called this fad idea “Non-graded Primary.” “Primary,” as it soon became known, was mandated statewide in every elementary school by the 1992-93 school year (See Page 1231, Section 31 (1) (a) in this copy of the law).

Back then, just like the AP reports today, it was all about trying to avoid labeling kids as failures.

Kentucky’s teachers struggled in every school district in the state to make the multi-age theories of Non-graded Primary work, but after about a decade of trying, it became evident, once again, that when education theory meets reality, theory often crumbles.

Students often left Non-graded Primary without the skills they needed in fourth grade.

Kentucky’s Ungraded Primary law was finally diluted in 1998 to the point where schools could, and many did, ignore it.

Today, while Ungraded Primary still remains on the books in Kentucky, the loophole law has resulted in considerable non-compliance in our schools. As of 2008, a Kentucky Department of Education report shows only 25 percent of Kentucky's elementary schools indicate they are operating a full, four-year multi-age inclusion program. The majority of schools indicate they are operating a traditional, single-age program.

What is also surprising is that there doesn't seem to be any study of the degree of implementation of the Non-graded Primary concept versus the resulting Kentucky Core Content Test results. I am working to see if we can obtain that missing information now.

In any event, most Kentucky’s students generally advance on the basis of age, just like in most other states in the country. Even KERA's most enthusiastic cheer leader, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, now admits that Primary just didn’t work out.

Never the less, as the AP reports, more than a decade after Kentucky more or less retreated from this problematic education idea, educators in other parts of the country, apparently ignorant of Kentucky’s history, are jumping on this fad, again.

And, ignorance of Kentucky’s history is obvious. For example, the news article says that the Kansas City School System is the largest ever to try this approach.

Not so!

Kentucky’s Ungraded Primary was operated in every school and district in the state, including the Jefferson County Public School System, which dwarfs the Kansas City system. Today, the Kansas City Public School System educates around 17,400 students. Jefferson County, by way of comparison, is home to 94,578 students according to the 2009-2010 Growth Factor Report from the Kentucky Department of Education.

Even a kid, unless he or she is in one of those Non-graded Primary math programs, can tell you which district is A LOT bigger!

(Note: Revised from initial post to reflect the information reported in the "2008 Demographic Survey of the Primary Program," which I discovered subsequent to making the original post)

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