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.