A school district in Westminster struggling with declining enrollment and falling test scores will try something revolutionary next year that many say never has been accomplished in the Lower 48.
Adams 50 will eliminate grade levels and instead group students based on what they know, allowing them to advance to the next level after they have proved proficiency.
"If they can pull this off, it will be a lighthouse for America's challenged school districts," said Richard DeLorenzo, the consultant who implemented a standards-based model in Alaska and is working with Adams 50. "It will change the face of American education."
A district of 10,000 students and 21 schools, Adams 50 serves a working-class suburb north of Denver. Seventy-two percent of its students are poor enough for federal meal benefits, two-thirds are Latino, and 38 percent still are learning English.
Two years ago the district was put on academic watch because of achievement troubles; fewer than 60 percent of students graduate on time.
"What we are doing right now is not working," said Superintendent Roberta Selleck, who was hired in 2006 to reform the district. "We think this will be huge."
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.
Next school year, the system starts with students now classified as kindergartners through eighth-graders and will expand into high school one year at a time.
"In a standards-based system, time becomes the variable and learning is the constant," Selleck said. "When a kid can demonstrate proficiency of a standard, they move on. There is nothing magical about a quarter, semester or the end of school. That becomes blurred. Learning becomes much more 24-7."
There's much more to read in the whole article from the Denver Post. I have to admit, I'm rather fascinated with the whole idea. It looks like standards-based grading practices will be used and mastery will be the goal. It's a bit buried in the piece, but Robert Marzano is consulting on this project---and a district could do worse than having him guide things along.
Still, if I may say so, this is one ballsy school district.
I would very much be interested to learn what the district will do with "outlier" students. I'm assuming that just because a 15-year old student is working at a 3rd grade level doesn't mean you put them with 9-year olds---you find the other 15-year olds who are far below their peers and group them that way. What happens to electives? Transcripts for college? Do kids only get the one test a year to determine placement---or is there some way teachers can have kids collect evidence of learning for a broader method of determining level? Would an ELL kid get to "skip" some levels once their language skills allow them to demonstrate the subject matter proficiency they may have had all along? What supports are in place for teachers? Parents?
While I doubt that this sort of model will become the norm in coming years, if it is successful, I wouldn't be surprised to see it adopted by others. I hope we learn a lot along the way.