Teacher-led school groups by performance

Detroit’s first teacher-led school is regrouping middle school students by English Language Arts and math performance, reports Education Week.

At Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a K-8 school, teachers decided to place students in one of three classes for English and math, depending on “whether they need more-intensive instruction on basic concepts or are ready for more in-depth instruction.”

Crucially, teachers are expected to target the same standards, but their lessons explore them in different levels of breadth and depth depending on the performance level. The extended learning time—a change that’s being tried across the district—helped usher in the final piece of the plan: professional development to help monitor students’ progress.

Teachers have common planning at the end of every school day, in addition to their regular prep periods. At those meetings, they’re able to discuss the results from their lessons and go over data generated from quarterly “benchmark” assessments. Then, they can decide whether a student needs to be moved to one of the other classes—something that can occur on a weekly or, potentially, even daily basis as necessary.

Grouping students by performance raises the dread specter of tracking, which educators abandoned in the ’80s and ’90s, believing low-performing students would be stuck in a dead-end remedial track.

. . .  teachers in Detroit note that the placements aren’t static, and students aren’t stuck indefinitely at a particular level of instruction. A student who succeeds in algebraic concepts but struggles with geometric ones could be regrouped for those specific lessons, while others whose performance rises steadily could move ahead.

“It is more about needing to know your objectives; it’s almost like mastery of skills—have you mastered them, have you demonstrated them,” (Ann) Crowley said.

“It’s like an [individualized education plan] for each child.”

The school’s lead teachers say students are more engaged and focused when they’re taught at their own level.

I think this kind of flexible tracking has got to work better than asking teachers to differentiate instruction for students who are way behind, at grade level and  ahead in the same classroom.

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  1. ACCCKKK! Tracking! The sky is falling! Time to panic!

    or not.

    The idea of grouping students by the course they’re taking was no big brainstorm. Why should a finer sort be a problem?

  2. We’ve done this at the middle school I work at for years.

    The bureaucrats at central office don’t like it, and keep trying to find excuses to get rid of it. I find that it’s useful. Heck, I’ve read even on one Teach for America blog (I think it was one of the TFA kids who said this) that differentiation doesn’t work if you have to spread it across too many performance levels.

    However, I’ve seen it work…if you have enough class sections to create a solid mid-level group as well as a high and low.

    Student movement often took place at midterm and at the end of terms. Sometimes, if a kid really crashed and burned, or took off and flew, then the change was made at a different time.

    However, this was done strictly by the teachers. No administrators. And it was done with grade printouts and test scores readily to hand. A time consuming process (several hours) but it seemed to work.