Apr 1, 2009

Eliminating Grade Levels in Public Schools

In last Sunday's Parade Magazine I read an article entitled The End of Grade Levels? and found it quite intriguing. The theory is based on the fact that children learn in different ways and at various rates. What takes one student one hour to learn may take another student a full day to grasp.

The practice of placing students in grades according to their age is being changed. Some schools are beginning to place students in classes according to their ability.

This has already been implemented in the Chugach school district in Alaska. In just five years, that district's achievement scores have gone from being the lowest in the state to among the highest. Schools nationwide are beginning to give this new approach a try.

I can definitely see how this approach would benefit my ADHD/LD son. This is the teaching model one school we previously considered for our son used. Although we decided against placing our son in that school, it had nothing to do with their lack of grade levels.

I think my son would excel in an environment that accommodated his learning disabilities. If he were surrounded by other students, regardless of their age, who were having difficulties as well, he would be more comfortable and relaxed. He wouldn't feel like the "dumb one" when he didn't understand a concept that the rest of the class mastered easily. Everyones learning curve would be relatively the same, reducing his anxiety.

I would love to see every school district in the U.S. give parents and students the option... attend a school with grade levels or without. I know that will never happen, but I can dream.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you think your child would benefit from this type of classroom environment? Do you see any negatives?

By the way, Parade Magazine has created a poll to see how m any of their readers agree and disagree with the idea of not having grade levels in schools. So far their readers are in favor of it.... 79% for and 21% against.


  1. I have always learned at my own rate, especially as an adult who exclusively uses interactive education like computer based modules.

    Being herded upward in the sausage grinder imperils the education of those who require more time to assimilate certain curriculum. I wholeheartedly concur with classes divided by ability, with little or no attention paid to age.

  2. There is the difficulty of how this may affect children socially, however. In some Australian primary schools we trialed what we call "stage-based placements" (pretty much the same thing being talked about in your article) but there were concerns about children being socially isolated due to being in a classroom full of younger peers.

    What my be better is the differentiation or multi-level teaching in one classroom. A little more challenging, but possibly less likely to impact the child socially. However, I can't quote any research on this... just the body of research that discusses the positive effects for both students with disabilities and students without when the former are included in general education settings.

    Perhaps only the child/parent can really know what works best for them so, yes, having a choice would be good.

  3. When I was in school we had what I guess is a combination of the 2....we were in grades according to age but within the grades we have level classes.....A level being the "smarter" kids, B level being the average kids and C level being the kids who stuggled to grasp some of the concepts. Once in junior high and high school we were leveled according to subject....for instance I was in an A level english class but a C level algebra class. I honestly wish my sons school would do leveling becaus it made me feel more normal to be in with kids who were the same as me and not in a mixed group. Personally I think the concept of mainstreaming kids has gone a bit too far and it's not good for the kids self esteems IMO.

  4. My daughter has gifted-LD and vision problems. She got (mis)diagnosed with ADD, but she DID have attentional problems as well (hence the misdiagnosis).

    She thrived both at schools where she could be at different levels in different subjects. One school she was at had an elementary children doing math with high schoolers and some high schoolers doing reading with elementary kids. NO STIGMA attached because all the kids were like that.

  5. It makes me happy to see that there are other people who actually care about ADHD. I am a weird one. I'm a teenager who's had it since she was 8, and I'm researching it and learning about it all on my own. I don't think that joking around about something such as mental illness is fair when you can't help it.

  6. I think my daughter would benefit from this greatly. I hate giving her pills, and although she does well in school when she takes them she just isn't my little girl... she acts like some type of robot. Without her meds she is able to learn but at a much slower pace.
    I've thought about holding her back for a year.

  7. This is interesting. As a speech language pathologist working in education, I was always taught to look at the individual child. You identify the child's strengths and weaknesses, and recommend what needs to be done next. "Is this student making progress?" is the biggest question, not what grade he fits into.

    I applaud Parade and this blog for opening up a dialogue about this.

  8. Even though this isn't soon likely to become the norm at school, non-grading division can be used in extra-curricular activities. Someone recommended this approach for our church's summer program last year. We divided the kids into groups that did not take age into account. It worked well. There were a lot of new friendships and cooperation. The teachers made sure to teach in a way that would benefit many ages of kids.

  9. It hurts when you see your child is separated with those so called "normal chld". I as a parent experience that. But now with those add-adhd children there are centers that could help them. My child was one of those who are in a center.

  10. I am a sleep specialist who treats many children who have sleep disorders and a diagnosis of ADHD. I would like your subscribers to be aware that sleep problems in both children and adults can sometimes mimic and alway exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. Please see my recent blog on this topic.

  11. What an interesting concept. I can not imagine it will ever fly on a grand scale because of the negative concpet many districts have about ability grouping. I have wondered for quite some time why we are not allowed to ability group in our school, when it would clearly benefit the students. And I am just speaking of within the same grade level. Ability grouping cross grade would be unheard of where I am. Everyone in the district is engaged in a lot of "talk" about differentiation. Our district claims that since there is differentiation within each individual classroom there is no need to "ability group" on a large scale, which is why a concept like this would never even be considered. However, there is only a limited amount of differentiation that is getting accomplished in the general education classroom.

  12. This is really interesting information on children and their different learning levels; and wether or not schools nowadays accomodate those different learning levels and types. I added an ADHD/ADD community on my website, shareWIK (share What I Know) and would love your input! ShareWIK is an online community bringing together people of all areas of expertise so that they can share what they know. Keep up the great work, and we would love to hear from you!

  13. The school that my children go to has multi-age classrooms. This is so helpful for kids with ADHD because they are in classes with kids ahead and behind them academically. It is helpful for self esteem and helpful from a academic perspective as a child mentor is often superior to a teacher mentor. Tess


  14. Interesting, but not sure what I think of this. Yes, I believe and have experienced children learning at different rates. However, children of different ages also have different maturity levels. I don't know how it would work to have a children learning the same thing if there is a gap in the ages. Interesting concept though and look forward to hearing more about it.

    Evalulogix, LLC

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  16. I think nixing grade levels is an excellent idea. Keeping a gifted child at grade level in a particular subject where he or she could zoom 2 or 3 grades ahead in is absolute torture!

    I think it's insane to try to lump all children into one group just because they were all born within a year or two of each other, and assume that they'll all pick up every subject at the same rate for 12 years.

    The boarding school where I work, Oakland School, is one for children with learning disabilities, and we have abolished grade levels entirely. Instead, we tailor an individual program for each child, so someone who is a couple grades behind in reading will be in a class with slightly younger students for their reading classes, while that same child may be in a much higher peer group due to exceptional math abilities (or vice versa).

    By giving attention to the areas of deficit instead of forcing them to stay at grade level, the child continues to be challenged the whole time,and make tremendous gains in their traditionally weaker areas.

    Plus, this greatly facilitates peer interactions outside one's grade level, which much better approximates what they'll face in the real world out of school. All in all, it's a great bet.

  17. The results of a fascinating study on how diet can impact on ADHD has just been released in Perth, Western Australia. The findings have been published in the Journal Of Attention Disorders. They provide an insight into whether an ADHD diet is useful or not.

  18. Those in the low risk group of having ADHD had a completely different kind of diet in that it had lots of EFAs (essential fatty acids)or Omega 3, fresh fruit and vegetables, vitamin B, fibre, whole grains, white meat and fish. Protein is a great way to help build healthy neurotransmitters.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love comments and feedback!