Your Superintendent has just returned from the ASCD conference where he met with the superintendent of the district described in this article. He is intrigued by the program the Adam’s School District is implementing because your district is very similar and is experiencing similar problems. You are the District’s Deputy Superintendent for Instruction. The Superintendent tells you about the initiative being tried in Adam’s. He also tells you that there have been other experiments with ungraded classes in schools around the nation, He asks you to look into the concept of ungraded classes with an eye toward possibly attempting a program similar to Adam’s in this district. He asks you to provide him with your reaction to the plan in a written report. He asks you to include potential benefits and pitfalls of moving in this direction. Relate these to the district descried bellow. You are not to develop an implementation plan, just provide your feedback supported by any information
Adams 50 skips grades, lets kids be pacesetters
By Jeremy P. Meyer
The Denver Post
Posted: 12/21/2008 12:30:00 AM MST
Updated: 12/21/2008 12:40:16 AM MST
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.”
Students will still take the state’s standardized test — the Colorado Student Assessment Program — to monitor both individual and schoolwide progress. The district has spent the year defining the standards for each level, training teachers and working with state officials to create assessments.
The program is being piloted at Metz Elementary and in various classrooms across the district.
“It’s been working so well,” said Kim Carver, who teaches first-grade math in the standards-based model at Tennyson Knolls Elementary School. “The kids are in control.”
Students in Carver’s class have charts called capacity matrices with standards they must master for each month.
Six-year-old Dominic Herrera showed one of them on the subject of counting pennies. On the chart were four categories: “I need help,” “I think I can,” “I know I can” and, finally, “I can teach it.”
Dominic had reached the “I know I can” level and was onto the next category, telling time in five-minute intervals. He was at the “I think I can” level.
“It’s neat that they have ownership, and they know what proficiency means,” Carver said. “It’s not arbitrary anymore.”
An unprecedented model
Standards-based models are not new. They have been implemented at the classroom level or within individual schools.
But bringing a standards-based model to a district as large as Adams 50 is unprecedented, said Bob Marzano, an education consultant working with the district on defining the standards.
“Education has been building to this for decades,” he said. “It makes so much sense. The moment a district the size of Adams 50 pulls this off, you will see a lot of districts on their doorstep.”
State officials have been helping Adams 50 devise intermittent assessments to track students.
“This is a departure from one-size-fits-all,” said state Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Turner. “It’s more customized learning. If we want a path to better results, we should be willing to try different things. . . . We applaud their efforts.”
Adams 50 officials got the idea from a speech by DeLorenzo at a Colorado Association of School Boards retreat.
DeLorenzo helped implement a nationally recognized standards-based system in the Chugach School District — a district of about 200 students scattered throughout 22,000 square miles of mostly isolated areas in south-central Alaska.
The model transformed the district, where 90 percent of students couldn’t read at grade level.
Credit hours and grade levels were replaced with tailored lessons. Students were grouped by proficiency, not age. To advance, they had to show mastery in 10 standards from academics to personal skills.
The district moved from the 28th percentile in reading nationally to the 71th percentile and outscored Alaska’s average on the statewide assessment.
The Gates Foundation gave the Chugach district $5 million to replicate the model across Alaska. About a dozen Alaska districts have tried to implement the model — some with success. Others abandoned it.
Denali Borough School District removed the system from two of its three schools when teachers complained that tracking student progress was becoming too burdensome.
“One of the toughest issues is not giving grades anymore,” said Roger Sampson, head of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States who was the superintendent at the Chugach district when the standards-based system was introduced.
Sampson has been a advocate for the model, which he says works “tremendously” if leadership and stakeholders are behind it.
“Most of the controversy comes at the high school level and surrounds things that have to do with eligibility in athletics, grade-point averages and scholarships,” he said.
Adams 50 is doing away with grades A-F, but students will get grades ranging from 4 to 0, allowing them to still have a grade-point average that colleges will recognize.
Plan has its skeptics
Van Schoales, education expert at the Denver-based Piton Foundation, is skeptical about Adams 50’s chances.
“There is a reason why school districts have a hard time implementing this, because they don’t replace their old systems,” said Schoales, who added that his only understanding of Adams 50’s plan is from its website.
“It is like adding a new program on top of an outdated, old computer with a poor operating system,” he said. “To create this new system on top of this existing system that is time-based is probably not going to work.”
Richard Rodriguez thinks it will work. He pulled his children from Adams 14 to attend Adams 50’s Metz Elementary, the pilot school, because of the new model.
His kids, who are in kindergarten to fourth grade, now are more engaged in school, he said.
“They are excited about going to school,” he said. “We don’t have to get them up. They are excited about the program. They have their own goals, and they know what they are learning and why they are learning it. I have seen the transformation.”