JOURNALING CHAOS 4: “Las Preguntas”

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The “I Ching” teaches that “Before there can be great brilliance… there must be chaos.”

This is PART 4 in a series of blog posts that document our research, strategic thinking, observations and debates as we take on one of the last vestiges of the industrial revolution: the practice in schools of organizing kids into grade levels according to their chronological age.  

There are often more questions than answers.

If we group our students according to their level of mastery and not by grade or chronological age;

If we defy all standard practice and industry norms and cultural mores and the hallowed “way we do things here”;  

If we defy American tradition itself and simply assign children to classroom groupings according to what they are ready to learn next… 

We must prepare to answer the questions.  So we started by asking them ourselves:

question mrkMaureen asked:  “Is it LEGAL to group kids for instruction– and eventually assign them a standardized test– according to their proficiency levels?” and “Is it ethical?”

Melinda asked: “If all kids take the California Standards Test according to their mastery level… and all kids end up scoring Proficient… won’t that look like we are cheating?”

Ryan asked: “A lot of our students are at different levels of proficiency for different subjects.  Some are proficient in math but not language arts.  So the state would have to provide our students with two different tests– two different grade levels.  Are they going to be able to do that?”

Lowell asked: “So you are talking about ‘dummying down’ the rigor just so you get higher test scores?”

Anthony asked: “Isn’t this just a sneaky way of avoiding accountability as a charter school?”

The Wizard asked:  “If we are labeling and re-labeling students by something other than a traditional grade level…  won’t that effect our funding from the state?”

Ivonne asked:  “If kids are grouped by mastery levels… and they don’t move to the next level until they demonstrate mastery of the level they are on… what happens to the kid that never demonstrates mastery?  Are we going to have 19 year-olds on our K-8 campus now?”

Kira said: “It sounds like your plan takes a lot of pressure off the teachers with those AYP goal and other requirements by the state of California.”  Then Kira asked:  “But if you do that, and now kids move to the next level only after they score Proficient on the CST… haven’t you now transferred the pressure from the teachers to the students?  What if you have students whojust aren’t good test takers? Are they stuck in elementary school forever?”

Conchita asked: “If you establish an age limit at El Milagro, and declare that you can’t stay here after the age of , say 14… but they still haven’t demonstrated mastery of the 8th Grade Test,  are you just going to socially promote them to high school?”

And “How is that any different than what we do now?”

Maria asked: “What about students transferring in during the school year from traditional graded schools?  If their child is a 5th grader, they are going to want them placed in the 5th grade!”

The Wizard is entitled to two questions so he asked: “How might our technology infrastructure play a role in helping students advance?”

pk asked: “Do you trust the California Standards Test… let alone the state standards… to serve as the benchmark for mastery before students can advance?”

Ricky asked: “Is this a protest against NCLB and the state’s accountability system… or a legitimate response to what the data tells us?”

celloJonathan noted: “There are a lot of ways to demonstrate mastery of state standards other than by a standardized test.  Are you giving the CST too much credibility as the main determiner of students moving forward? Are there other ways kids can demonstrate mastery of the state standards?”

RT asked: “Isn’t this a return to tracking?  Not that I see a conspiracy in every new idea, but we have been down this road before.  Isn’t this just another systemic guarantee that the same kids that always get left behind will still get left behind?”

Annie asked: “Can’t you achieve the same thing within the existing system of grade level groupings?”  

And since we are married she asked:  “You just aren’t happy until you are on the verge of getting fired, are you?”

Questions reflect the depth of the chaos. Or predict it.

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3 Comments

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, technology in schools, Un-graded schools

3 responses to “JOURNALING CHAOS 4: “Las Preguntas”

  1. Having seen some of the benefits of multi-age grouping, I have often wondered how grouping for proficiency would work. It seems to me that you’d need to have some kind of performance metric, in-house, that you could rely on to make determinations about class placement.

    The question about how the state determines which kids take which tests is key to the whole AYP facet of the project. In my state, tests are matched to students by “grade level” which we all know means age-of-student, more or less. If that’s what will happen, I don’t see how this helps the AYP problem. But that doesn’t mean it would be bad for kids.

    These were great questions. The best questions don’t have easy answers. This should be interesting.

  2. Thanks for commenting Doug. I appreciate your insights… as I have been reading your blog too!

    We actually do have a formative assessment called MAPS… it is developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and has given us extremely reliable data to determine students’ progress throughout the school year. It is a computer-based assessment that students take every quarter. The results enable us to group students by proficiency levels so it is considerably more practical and valuable than the state’s standardized test.

    You also stated that “The question about how the state determines which kids take which tests is key to the whole AYP facet of the project”. So true. This is critical because we can already group kids by proficiency levels… but we still give them tests they aren’t ready to take! This is the issue we are trying to work through right now… and it appears to have tentacles that run through California education law, finance, and, of course, institutional history!

    The AYP, NCLB, and California’s API all depend on us playing the same game of grouping kids by grade levels. Ironically… it is the data itself that is calling for us to do otherwise!!!

  3. Pingback: JOURNALING CHAOS 5: “School Runnings” « “El Milagro Weblog”

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